JUPITER, Fla. -- After days of bullpen sessions, batting practice and fielding drills, the Cardinals are now ready to test their players in a setting where results matter.
Well, sort of.
Clearly, the Cardinals are not eyeing a Grapefruit League title. There are championships to be won a little later in 2014 that are of much more significance. However, as the Cards open Grapefruit League play on Friday, competition battles will be heightened, prospects will get a chance to make an impression and competition will be introduced as an element to complement preparation.
"More than ready," manager Mike Matheny said of transitioning into game play. "We've had an agenda, things to get done every day. I really like working. I really like watching these guys do their thing and trying to keep them engaged and trying to keep them progressing and trying to keep pushing a philosophy and a concept. Then trying to put them in a situation where we can build it."
It has been two weeks since the Cardinals held their first official spring workouts for pitchers and catchers. By Feb. 17, every position player on the roster had also reported. Pleased with the work accomplished since report dates, Matheny gave his players and staff the day off on Thursday.
Carlos Martinez, eager to move on from off-the-field distractions, will get the ball first for the Cardinals in spring games. He'll face reigning National League Rookie of the Year Jose Fernandez when St. Louis meets Miami at Roger Dean Stadium on Friday. First pitch is scheduled for 12:05 p.m. CT.
For those unable to attend, the game will be available to watch on MLB.TV, MLB Network and Fox Sports Midwest.
Matheny has already revealed that he does not plan to start veteran catcher Yadier Molina in the spring opener. While Molina is injury free and without limitations, the Cardinals want to ease him into exhibition play. Their reasoning? Innings saved now can become innings played later in the regular season.
Other projected starters, however, are likely to see the field, as Matheny has made it a point since taking over as manager to get them some exposure early.
Martinez, who arrived at camp already advanced in his conditioning because of his recent winter ball stint, will have his pitch count capped at around 40-45. Tyler Lyons will follow him in relief. Both Martinez and Lyons are battling for a spot in the Opening Day rotation.
"It shows me that I'm an important part of the team and that they're trusting that I can pitch and do the work of a starter," Martinez said, as translated by Luis Morales, the organization's international baseball operations assistant. "I'm very happy. I'm excited about the opportunity, and I feel good that they are giving me the chance."
It will be a while longer before fans can get their first look at top prospect Oscar Taveras in game action, as the Cards are being cautious in his return from ankle surgery. Taveras, ranked by MLB.com as the third-best prospect in the Majors, said earlier this week that he has been running at about 80 percent intensity.
Closer Trevor Rosenthal, too, has been slowed as he deals with a right groin strain. He likely won't see game action until next week.
Friday's game will be the first of 27 Grapefruit League contests for St. Louis. The team will then make a stop in Memphis for an exhibition game at the home of its Triple-A affiliate before heading to Cincinnati for its March 31 season opener against the division-rival Reds.
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, By Gosh, It's Langosch, and follow her on Twitter @LangoschMLB.