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Norris aiming to claim spot in Cards' bullpen

Special to MLB.com

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- Cardinals right-hander Bud Norris is hoping the back end of the bullpen is where he continues his Major League career. The 33-year-old, who has 188 starts under his belt, had 19 saves in 23 opportunities last season with the Angels. It was a very different role that seemed to suit the nine-year veteran.

Norris pitched a perfect eighth inning in the Cardinals' 4-2 loss to the Astros on Friday, striking out one.

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WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- Cardinals right-hander Bud Norris is hoping the back end of the bullpen is where he continues his Major League career. The 33-year-old, who has 188 starts under his belt, had 19 saves in 23 opportunities last season with the Angels. It was a very different role that seemed to suit the nine-year veteran.

Norris pitched a perfect eighth inning in the Cardinals' 4-2 loss to the Astros on Friday, striking out one.

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"It was going to be an inevitable move in that direction unless something happened that made us really truly feel that his best opportunity to help our club would be as a starter, and then obviously we'd have to keep moving in that direction," Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said on Friday.

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Norris' first two Grapefruit League appearances included one start, a 2 1/3-innings stint last Friday against the Red Sox where he gave up five runs on four hits, including two homers. He threw two innings in relief on Feb. 24 against the Mets, yielding two runs on three hits, including a home run.

Matheny indicated that Norris could still play a hybrid role on a deep pitching staff. Norris started a career-high 31 games for the Astros in 2011. He started a minimum of 27 games in each season from 2010-14.

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"He certainly could, we'll see if that's how he could best help us," Matheny said. "The experience he had last year and how well he responded, and how well it looked as a one-inning guy, I think it's worth taking a good, long look at."

In a conversation with Norris prior to the start of the spring season, Matheny said he was told the back end of the bullpen is where Norris thought he could best help the club.

"He's excited about the opportunity, and he could still play that hybrid role," Matheny said.

Mayers seeks bullpen spot
Right-hander Mike Mayers started 86 games over five Minor League seasons, but it is out of the bullpen where the 26-year-old has the best chance at making the Opening Day roster coming out of Spring Training. Perhaps a hybrid role is in his future?

"His stuff looks better coming out of the 'pen," Matheny said. "He's had a nice spring with that shorter-outing approach. I think it's been a positive in his mind, just something a little bit different, too."

Video: STL@HOU: Mayers whiffs Kimmer, strikes out the side

Mayers continues to impress. Making his third relief appearance on Friday, he struck out the side against the Astros, whiffing Derek Fisher, Jake Marisnick, and Jon Kemmer in order. Mayers threw two perfect innings in all, striking out four.

Matheny said beginning the season as a starter at Triple-A Memphis is not in the plans for Mayers.

"As you look at the number of starters that we could potentially have at Memphis, I feel like we're pretty well covered," Matheny said.

Mayers converted to the bullpen at the Triple-A All-Star break after 15 starts into the 2017 season, breaking a streak of 88 consecutive Minor League starts. He's pitched in seven games for the Cardinals over the last two regular seasons; six of those out of the bullpen.

Position battle
Tyler O'Neill just wants a chance. The 22-year-old outfielder has missed a significant amount of time this spring because of a strained left oblique muscle and he has fallen to the bottom of the depth chart at all three outfield positions.

Video: STL@HOU: O'Neill picks up apparent injury, exits game

O'Neill, who hit 31 homers at Triple-A last season, got the start on Friday in right field, going 0-for-2 before leaving the game with a right hamstring strain. Facing Astros starter Justin Verlander, O'Neill struck out and was hit by a pitch, then he grounded out against reliever Brad Peacock.

Up next
Watch live on MLB.TV as right-hander Michael Wacha is scheduled to make his third start of the Grapefruit League season at 12:05 p.m. CT on Saturday as the Cardinals take on the Marlins in Jupiter, Fla. Over two previous starts, Wacha gave up two earned runs on three hits over five innings.

Glenn Sattell is a contributor to MLB.com.

St. Louis Cardinals, Mike Mayers, Bud Norris, Tyler O'Neill, Michael Wacha