Shildt keeping options open for 2-hole in lineup

February 21st, 2019

JUPITER, Fla. -- After weeks of workshopping potential lineups, Cardinals manager Mike Shildt will begin testing various combinations with the commencement of Grapefruit League play on Saturday. One of the first looks he’ll get is that of Dexter Fowler batting second.

Shildt said that Fowler will hit in the two-hole on Sunday, when the Cardinals host Washington in their first home game of the spring. The Cardinals haven’t settled on using Fowler there during the season, but it is under consideration.

So, too, is the possibility of moving Paul Goldschmidt to the No. 2 spot, where he’d hit behind Matt Carpenter.

“I’ve had conversations with guys, but nobody is lobbying [for a specific spot],” Shildt said. “This group has been completely about team first, whatever is best, whatever is good for the greater good.”

For Fowler, returning toward the top of the lineup will have to be earned. If he resembles the player who posted a .367 on-base percentage from 2009-17, the Cardinals would have some justification for moving him back up. However, he is coming off a season in which he posted a .180/.278/.298 slash line and made 41 of his 74 starts as a six- or seven-hole hitter.

Wherever he slots in, Fowler indicated that he would prefer to at least have some stability within the lineup. Over the course of last season, he started games batting everywhere but ninth.

“Obviously,” Fowler added, “I want the most at-bats I can get, however that looks.”

Roster crunch

The start of Grapefruit League play will intensify the spotlight on roster competition, which could become particularly complex in the bullpen.

A year after prioritizing flexibility while building their bullpen, the Cardinals don’t seem to have that luxury this time around. They have three relievers (Brett Cecil, Luke Gregerson and Andrew Miller) on their 40-man roster with guaranteed contracts and another three pitchers (Chasen Shreve, Mike Mayers and John Gant) who are out of options.

Carrying out-of-options players on the big league roster means the club would be limited in how readily it could shuttle pitchers back and forth to the Minors in order to maintain enough fresh arms. If the Cardinals feel too hamstrung by this option, they could also look to clear some of the logjam by executing a trade before breaking camp.

“It is going to make for some difficult decisions, or lead to a bullpen that has little flexibility,” president of baseball operations John Mozeliak said. “It’s hard for me to speculate on what they may or may not look like over the next five weeks. But I don’t look at it as a problem yet.”

Worth noting

• Former Cardinals closer Jason Motte made an appearance at camp on Thursday as part of his Spring Training visits on behalf of his foundation and its ‘K Cancer’ initiative. Motte was in Cardinals Spring Training last year, then he chose to retire after not making the Major League team.

• Due to an autograph event in the morning, the Cardinals will push back Friday’s workout to the afternoon. They’ll also move it into Roger Dean Chevrolet Stadium, where Shildt said the team will prioritize cutoffs and relays.

• After running a pitchers’ fielding tournament this week, plans are in the works for a position-player competition that will stretch through Grapefruit League play. Shildt hinted that it might have some tie to March Madness.