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Notes: Lefty specialists; unique drill for pitchers

@anne__rogers
February 16, 2020

JUPITER, Fla. -- Cardinals coaches and staff have talked about all the variables that the three-batter-minimum rule will bring to pitching strategy this year, but manager Mike Shildt doesn’t think he’ll have to worry about their left-handed relievers getting right-handed batters out. “That’s the key to this thing and that’s

JUPITER, Fla. -- Cardinals coaches and staff have talked about all the variables that the three-batter-minimum rule will bring to pitching strategy this year, but manager Mike Shildt doesn’t think he’ll have to worry about their left-handed relievers getting right-handed batters out.

“That’s the key to this thing and that’s the future for where the game’s going with this rule,” Shildt said. “We haven’t had the proverbial LOOGY in a while. We have to figure out a way, and we are, to make sure guys are capable of getting righties and lefties out. That’s the huge value to you as a reliever.”

Andrew Miller and Tyler Webb, the Cardinals’ top two lefties returning in the 'pen this season, were able to retire hitters from both sides of the plate. Webb held right-handers to a .189 average and a .679 OPS compared to a .157 average and .517 OPS to left-handers. Miller held righties to a .238 average compared to a .211 average for left-handers, although the .804 right-handed OPS was significantly higher than the .667 OPS for lefties.

“I definitely was a lefty specialist at times, and I think Miller as well, but it wasn’t like, ‘Hey, you’re only getting lefties out, don’t even scout the other guys,’” Webb said. “We were preparing for everyone. I feel pretty prepared for [the rule], but it’s definitely an advantage for the batter. I would imagine they want to face the lefty if they’re a righty.”

But there are intricacies to the rule and how managers will use it. For example, Webb brought up that it might be hard to bring a lefty in with nobody out in the inning. Depending on the lineup, the starter might need to get one out before bringing in the lefty.

Or that structuring the lineup might not mean having two left-handed batters back-to-back anymore.

“It’ll be a little more dramatic, too, like, ‘We don’t have the matchup we want, but we can’t do anything about it,’” Webb said. “Get through this, as opposed to, ‘Oh, big spot and a lefty up, bring in Miller,’ and defuse the moment.”

Shildt agreed. Relievers will know they’re either getting the outs to end an inning or facing three batters.

“Listen, you’re going to be -- mercy’s probably a strong word, but you’re going to have to get comfortable with having a guy go out and get his outs,” he said. “Maybe end an inning or start an inning and feel good about the first three batters.”

PFP galore for Sunday’s workout

Pitchers were not scheduled to throw bullpen sessions on Sunday, instead rotating around the six practice fields for pitching fielding practice. In groups ranging from four to six pitchers, they covered bases and fielded grounders. After the field workout, some pitchers -- mostly projected starters -- hit in the cage.

The highlight, though, was bullpen coach Bryan Eversgerd’s station of wall rag ball.

Using a softer ball that has more bounce to it, Eversgerd hit choppers and grounders to the pitchers standing about 30 feet away. The goal was to catch the ball or keep it from getting past the pitcher -- while also keeping them on their toes in preparation for some of the rockets that might come at them in game action this year.

The PFP competition that the Cardinals like to put together won’t come until Wednesday, but Eversgerd made his station a little bit of a competition Sunday. He wanted to get the ball past the players, while the players wanted to make sure their coach didn’t have bragging rights. Among the most competitive were Daniel Ponce de Leon, Jack Flaherty and Adam Wainwright, and Eversgerd mentioned that Dakota Hudson was probably the most improved at the drill from over the last few years.

Hudson's to-do list: More fluidity, fewer walks

Cecil looks lively in bullpen sessions

Shildt said that he’s gotten positive reviews on left-hander Brett Cecil’s bullpen sessions this spring. The 33-year-old is entering the final year of his four-year, $30.5 million contract and was injured on and off in 2018 and all of '19. He lives in Jupiter year-round now and reported to camp healthy, ready to make up for lost time.

So far, so good. Shildt said that pitching instructor Chris Carpenter stood in on Cecil’s bullpen Saturday and reported that the ball had good life and action to it, and it seems as though Cecil’s breaking ball is sharp again.

“Brett has done a really good job, really proud of and respect a lot about how he’s been able to face the challenges that he’s had the last several years on multiple levels,” Shildt said. “He’s better for it. He’s competing, he’s in a good spot mentally, physically … Feels good, covering well. Everything’s been favorable.”

Swinging away

Included in the group of pitchers who hit in the cage Sunday was lefty Kwang-Hyun Kim, who said he hasn’t hit since he was in high school -- 10 years ago.

The Korean Baseball Organization, where Kim spent the past 10 seasons before signing a two-year deal with the Cardinals, has a universal designated hitter. But Kim could very well be starting games for the Cardinals, which means he needs the hitting practice.

“The most important thing right now is to hit the ball,” Kim said through his interpreter Craig Choi. “Hitting home runs right now is impossible for me. Accuracy is the most important thing for me.”

Anne Rogers covers the Cardinals for MLB.com. Follow her on Twitter @anne__rogers and on Facebook.