JUPITER, Fla. -- Yadier Molina’s 19th and final Spring Training will start in earnest Sunday when the Cardinals face Jacob deGrom, Max Scherzer and the Mets in Port St. Lucie, Fla.
Molina, who has announced that the 2022 season will be his final one, missed the opening week of the Cards' camp while dealing with a personal matter in his native Puerto Rico. Molina, 39, is the Majors' longest-tenured player and his 19 consecutive years with one team is a big league record for catchers.
Molina worked on a back field Friday in an intrasquad game and caught starting pitcher Miles Mikolas. At the plate, Molina went hitless in four at-bats against Triple-A pitchers Zack Thompson, Packy Naughton and Johan Quezada. Cardinals manager Oliver Marmol is confident Molina will be ready for Opening Day at Busch Stadium against the Pirates on April 7.
“As of now, he feels good, and he’s looking to travel and play in St. Lucie on Sunday,” said Marmol, whose Cardinals beat the Nationals, 5-4, on Friday to improve to 5-1 this spring.
The Mets are planning to pitch deGrom and Scherzer -- winners of five combined Cy Young Awards from 2013-19 -- on Sunday.
VerHagen auditions for No. 5 spot
The Cardinals switched Mikolas’ throwing session to the back field Friday so Drew VerHagen could pitch against Major Leaguers and in front of fans at Roger Dean Stadium. VerHagen, who pitched at the MLB level for six seasons prior to playing in Japan the past two years, is in a battle with Jake Woodford and Aaron Brooks for the No. 5 spot in the team’s rotation. The team informed VerHagen on Thursday that he would be pitching in the Spring Training game and the 6-foot-6 right-hander welcomed the chance.
“It feels great. I wanted the ball, and when I signed with these guys, [team president John Mozeliak] told me, ‘We’re going to give you an opportunity to compete for a starting job,’” said VerHagen, who retired his first six hitters before surrendering home runs to Riley Adams and César Hernández in the third. “We have very limited games here, so to get a start, I’m happy about that. Overall, I liked my approach. I was aggressive, coming right at guys and throwing strikes, and there were just a couple of mistakes in the third inning.”
Brooks, who pitched the last two seasons in South Korea, has pitched scoreless baseball in five of his six innings this spring. He was added to the 40-man roster Friday when former closer Alex Reyes was moved to the 60-day injured list. As for Woodford, he pitched well down the stretch last season and is another strong contender for the No. 5 spot. He will pitch behind starter Dakota Hudson on Sunday against the Mets.
Gorman 'pressing' in bid to make club
When Nolan Gorman thrived in Spring Training in 2021, there was always the caveat that the lefty slugger would start the season in the Minor Leagues. This time around, Gorman -- who hit 25 home runs last season between Double-A Springfield and Triple-A Memphis -- came to camp knowing he had a realistic shot at making the Cardinals’ Opening Day roster with another stellar spring.
The Cardinals need more left-handed pop in their righty-dominant lineup, and the team is hoping Gorman can challenge Tommy Edman for the starting second-base job. However, after another hitless day Friday, Gorman saw his batting average dip to .125. His 0-for-3 effort Friday included a big swing on a 3-0 pitch that resulted in a harmless ground ball.
“I’ve seen Gorman more so pressing more than anything, which is common, natural, and it’s good for him. It’s something he’ll 100 percent work through and be fine,” Marmol said. “This, for him, probably doesn’t seem timely … but I’m zero [percent] concerned about Gorman being really good for us. This is good for him to go through it, experience it and plow through it. It won’t be the last time.”
In a move made to potentially bolster their utility depth, the Cardinals signed veteran Cory Spangenberg to a Minor League deal Friday. The 31-year-old Spangenberg, who comes to the club on a recommendation from bench coach Skip Schumaker, played for the Padres for five seasons and the Brewers for one year prior to playing professionally in Japan.
Spangenberg could be insurance in case potential Opening Day utility man Brendan Donovan struggles at the Major League level. Spangenberg, like Donovan, can potentially play five positions.