MILWAUKEE -- Top pitching prospect Shelby Miller made his Triple-A debut on Sunday in a losing effort by Memphis. Miller's outing spanned 63 pitches, but that only got him through three innings. He threw 42 of his pitches for strikes.
Three of the four runs Miller allowed scored in the second, an inning in which Oklahoma City sent eight batters to the plate. A double and four singles pushed Houston's Triple-A affiliate out to an early lead. Miller was tagged for another run in the third. He struck out four and didn't walk a batter.
The decision to start Miller in Triple-A was influenced both by what he did last year and by what he showed the Cardinals' staff this spring. Miller began Spring Training in Major League camp, where he was able to make two Grapefruit League starts. And as March progressed, the Cardinals saw Miller's velocity tick northward, the same way it had as he pitched deeper into spring last year.
And then there were his 2011 numbers in Double-A to consider. Miller, named the organization's Minor League pitcher of the year each of the past two seasons, posted a 9-3 record and 2.70 ERA in 16 starts for Springfield last year. He struck out 89 in 86 2/3 innings.
"He was borderline dominant there, so the feeling was that there really was nothing left for him to do there, so let's go ahead and give him an opportunity [in Triple-A]," farm director John Vuch said. "It's going to be a challenge for him. We don't expect him to just walk in and dominate there, but we do think it will be a good experience for him."
Matheny goes with different lineup vs. Wolf
MILWAUKEE -- Cardinals manager Mike Matheny nearly emptied his bench onto his lineup card on Sunday, as he presented Brewers starter Randy Wolf with the task of facing a lineup unlike the one Matheny employed during the first two games of this series.
Tyler Greene (2B), Matt Carpenter (1B), Tony Cruz (C) and Shane Robinson (CF) all earned their first starts of 2012. Neither Cruz nor Greene had the opportunity to even take an at-bat during the team's first three games.
"We have to get some of these guys in," Matheny said. "They had such good springs that if we just keep running eight out there, they're going to go stale."
A variety of factors went into Matheny's lineup decisions on Sunday.
Lance Berkman's career numbers against Brewers starter Randy Wolf made this an ideal day to give the first baseman a break. In 32 career at-bats against Wolf, Berkman has collected only three hits. That created an opportunity for Matheny to give Carpenter his first career start at first base.
Greene was the natural choice to start at second with a lefty starting. The Cardinals faced right-handed starters in their first three games. The right-handed-hitting Robinson was in the lineup for similar matchup reasons.
"I feel like I've kept myself prepared and ready," said Greene, whose last game at-bat came during an April 2 exhibition game. "I think it's not too much of a challenge right now, because you're coming off Spring Training. You're still somewhat fresh off playing a lot. We'll start up the game and see that first pitch and see where we're at."
By sitting on Sunday, catcher Yadier Molina is in position to be ready to start the final three games of this road trip. Had Molina played on Sunday, Matheny projected that he likely would have needed to give Molina the day off on Wednesday. With Jaime Garcia scheduled to start for St. Louis that day, Matheny preferred to have Molina behind the plate as Garcia's battery mate.
Westbrook ready to go after strong spring
MILWAUKEE -- Jake Westbrook's season debut will come nine days after his final Grapefruit League start, an unusually long layoff to start the year. He will, however, be on no sort of pitch limit on Monday against the Reds after throwing between 70-80 pitches during a bullpen session on Tuesday.
The session was designed to take the place of a start that wasn't available, and Westbrook used the chance to pitch in a non-competitive setting to focus heavily on his changeup, which wasn't sharp in his final Grapefruit League outing. Command of that pitch and his fastball were both satisfactory in Tuesday's session.
Westbrook then made one final tuneup on Thursday, throwing a less intense side session like the ones he would normally throw in between regular-season starts.
"I'm ready to go," Westbrook said. "This was probably one of the best springs I've ever had. I'm super confident in where I am. I just want to try and keep that going and be as consistent as I can possibly be."
Manager Mike Matheny went a step further, calling Westbrook "without question ... the biggest spring surprise." Not only did Westbrook arrive in Florida close to 20 pounds slimmer than he left St. Louis last October, but he complemented those body changes with terrific spring results.
In 24 Grapefruit League innings, Westbrook allowed only 12 hits, seven walks and four earned runs. Three of those runs came in one of his five outings.
"It's just a shame that we had to wait so long to get him in there [for a regular-season start]," Matheny said. "I'm just really happy for him. To see a guy who is that determined, you'd like to see the positive results."
Matheny still confident in Salas
MILWAUKEE -- Peppered with questions trying to discern his level of concern with inconsistent spring performances by Fernando Salas, manager Mike Matheny never indicated a wavering level of confidence.
That confidence hasn't since waned, not even after Matheny had to summon additional bullpen help when Salas couldn't get through an inning of work on Saturday.
Salas, who is expected to be the Cardinals' primary eighth-inning setup man, allowed a home run and two doubles in the five-batter appearance against the Brewers. In between, he recorded a pair of strikeouts.
"He's a guy that controls the plate with the fastball," Matheny said. "He was falling behind, and that's just not something that he usually does. I don't think it's something that he's going to do for very long. He's still, to me, he's one of those guys who I know we can count on in tough situations."
Salas did get ahead, 1-2, against two of the first three batters he faced, but both eventually worked the count full before recording a hit. Salas went to a three-ball count against the first three hitters of the inning.
This outing came on the heels of a season debut in which Salas surrendered a two-out RBI double. He allowed four runs on 10 hits in eight innings during Spring Training, which he had interrupted by the birth of his son and a brief illness. Both caused some disruption in Salas' schedule.
With a three-run, pinch-hit blast in the ninth inning on Saturday, first baseman Matt Adams now has a home run in each of his first three Triple-A games. Adams, ranked by MLB.com as the organization's eighth-best prospect, is one of two Pacific Coast League players already with three home runs.
Pitching prospect Trevor Rosenthal made his first Double-A start on Saturday and allowed two runs (one earned) on one hit and one walk in four innings. He struck out four. Rosenthal jumped a level to begin the year with Springfield after pitching in low Class A in 2011.
David Freese is the first Cardinals player since Edgar Renteria (2003) to have three multihit games to begin a season. He became the first St. Louis player since 1998 to have multi-RBI games in the first two games of the year. Current Cardinals hitting coach Mark McGwire was the last.
The Cardinals are set to face starters Homer Bailey, Mike Leake and Johnny Cueto, all right-handers, in their upcoming three-game series in Cincinnati.
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, By Gosh, It's Langosch, and follow her on Twitter @LangoschMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.