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Cardinals activate veteran Ross for bullpen role

Righty provides versatility; Brebbia optioned to Triple-A Memphis
MLB.com @JoeTrezz

MIAMI -- The last time Tyson Ross pitched regularly in relief, three-fifths of the Cardinals' current rotation hadn't been drafted yet. John Gant was in Class A Short-Season. Jordan Hicks was 16.

But the 31-year-old right-hander will begin his Cardinals tenure in the bullpen, where he'll add veteran balance to one of the Majors' youngest staffs after being acquired in a waiver claim from the Padres.

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MIAMI -- The last time Tyson Ross pitched regularly in relief, three-fifths of the Cardinals' current rotation hadn't been drafted yet. John Gant was in Class A Short-Season. Jordan Hicks was 16.

But the 31-year-old right-hander will begin his Cardinals tenure in the bullpen, where he'll add veteran balance to one of the Majors' youngest staffs after being acquired in a waiver claim from the Padres.

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St. Louis activated Ross, who went 6-9 with a 4.45 ERA in 22 starts for San Diego, prior to Tuesday's game against the Marlins. The Cardinals optioned right-hander John Brebbia to Triple-A Memphis in a corresponding move.

"It's an opportunity just to provide innings," Cardinals general manager Michael Girsch said. "Having multiple options allows us to skip guys if we need to but also get guys out of the game sooner if we need to. We'll see how he takes to it."

It's that versatility that convinced the Cardinals to take a flier on Ross, a starter for the bulk of his nine-year career, in a relief role. He could easily jump back into the rotation, which is without injured Carlos Martinez and Michael Wacha, if necessary. And because Ross is stretched out, he can be summoned for length should any of St. Louis' young hurlers falter early in starts. Girsch made reference to the three scoreless innings of relief Dakota Hudson provided Saturday in place of Austin Gomber.

"The reality is, his role can change every single day," interim manager Mike Shildt said. "He could be the long man tomorrow, he could be the middle guy the next day, he can be the eighth-inning guy one particular day. I don't like to settle into absolute roles."

Video: STL@PIT: Hudson gloves Harrison's comebacker in 6th

The club had other reasons as well. Analytically, Ross' peripherals suggest he could thrive in a more condensed role. The right-hander generates elite spin rate on his four-seam fastball, which spins at an average of 2,516 rpm, good for fifth in the Majors. Three of the four pitchers above him are All-Stars: Justin Verlander, Joe Jimenez, Felipe Vazquez and Mike Minor. Higher spin rate gives pitches a "rising" effect and, in theory, is believed to generate more swings and misses.

That hasn't applied to Ross in the past, though. He has struck out 8.4 batters per nine innings in 134 career starts, compared to just 7.0 per nine in 53 relief appearances. He made two relief outings last year for the Rangers, but before that, he last pitched regularly out of the bullpen in 2013.

"Usually, your high spin-rate guys are effective up in the zone," pitching coach Mike Maddux said. "Tyson has always been more of an on top of the ball, sinker, slider guy. Never really used his four-seamer up. That would be something we maybe need to bring into play. If you have an advantage up there and you've never really tried it, you might be good at it."

Video: LAD@SD: Ross takes no-hitter into 6th, strikes out 5

The club also had a financial incentive. The Cardinals absorbed just a fraction of Ross' $1,750,000 contract, which expires at the end of this season. But stipulations in it would earn him an extra $200,000 per start, Ross confirmed. MLB Network insider Ken Rosenthal first reported the details of his contract, writing for The Athletic.

"I think this is an opportunity to help this team win," Ross said. "I just have to find a way to stay sharp in between outings, and just be ready."

AROUND THE HORN

• Eyeing a possible return that could mark his last stint in a Cardinals uniform, Adam Wainwright completed a 21-pitch, "max-effort" bullpen on Tuesday at Marlins Park. The session, which comes after several failed attempts to fully test his inflamed right elbow in recent weeks, now sets Wainwright up to throw a simulated game in Jupiter, Fla. That is scheduled for Friday. If he gets through that without issue, a rehab assignment could follow. The 36-year-old Wainwright has been on the disabled list since May 14.

"I miss pitching," Wainwright said. "Honestly, I don't have enough time left in my career to sit back and watch."

Video: STL@MIA: Wainwright completes bullpen work in Miami

• Back in the Cardinals' clubhouse after receiving treatment on his inflamed left groin, Tyler O'Neill expressed a desire to keep the details of his condition private. The outfielder said the pain from the condition, which flared up last weekend, had subsided. O'Neill plans to return to hitting Wednesday. The Cardinals expect to activate him from the DL when eligible next week.

Joe Trezza is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @joetrezz.

St. Louis Cardinals, Tyson Ross