3 takeways from Cardinals camp ... so far

July 13th, 2020

ST. LOUIS -- Monday marks the halfway point of Summer Camp, and the Cardinals have the day off from workouts as they gear up for the second half of training. Opening Day -- July 24 in St. Louis against the Pirates -- is only 10 days away.

“We feel like we’re in a place where the work’s been very solid and very efficient,” manager Mike Shildt said Sunday. “Credit goes to the players. They came in spot on -- their focus, their attention to detail, the ability to execute. Everything that we’ve done to this point, camp’s been really, really clean.”

Here are three takeaways so far from Cardinals camp:

1. Pitching is not only deep, but versatile
The Cardinals plan on flexing their pitching depth during the season. But what has emerged in Summer Camp is the versatility the pitching offers, especially with a 30-man roster to begin the season. St. Louis feels it has as many as seven or eight starters on a staff that will have 16 or 17 pitchers on Opening Day. What's more, the organization will still have velocity and young talent at its alternate training site in Springfield, Mo.

The three intrasquad matchups and live batting practices offer evidence of different looks the Cardinals could throw at opponents. On Thursday, Shildt considered following , one of the league’s top sinkerballers, with , who offers an elevated fastball. The combo could torture hitters with a down-up about-face to keep them on their toes. On Friday, ’s plummeting changeup was following by ’s biting slider. Fastballs from or on the right could be followed by ’s breaking pitches from the left.

Ponce de Leon, Gant and Gomber have starter innings in them but also have experience in quick stints out of the bullpen. All three are open to pitching in any situation.

“It’s inherently an advantage,” Shildt said. “Guys present different looks and have different ways that they can compete and beat the other team. It’s a mindset of how these guys can complement and give different looks. So it is nice -- the depth is important, but also the different skill sets are an added bonus.”

2. Lineup gaining clarity
The Cardinals were faced with two questions this winter and spring -- who will bat leadoff, and who will bat cleanup? The last week of Spring Training games gave some answers, and Summer Camp has offered added clarity. The top of the lineup for the home team of every intrasquad game hasn’t changed:

Wong clinched leadoff duties by following last season with a strong spring, and the Cardinals believe the No. 2 spot is a good place for Carpenter, who could also take reps as the designated hitter.

The Cardinals need a replacement for Marcell Ozuna's production at the No. 4 spot last year. And after hitting .193 with runners in scoring position last season, DeJong spent the offseason, spring and the shutdown working on turning that number around to be that option. In the first inning of the Cards’ first intrasquad game, DeJong came to the plate with two runners in scoring position and one out. With two strikes, the infield played in to have a quicker play at the plate. DeJong looked to hit the ball hard up the middle, and he struck a hard grounder past a diving shortstop for a two-run single. He later added a two-run homer for a four-RBI game.

“It’s absolutely the approach,” Shildt said. “It’s absolutely indicative. … Clearly, he’s in the right place with his plan and his ability to execute it physically.”

3. Martínez still eyeing rotation
The Cardinals were eager to see how preserved his health and stamina during the months off, and the right-hander has been eager to show them just that since joining camp last week. He threw a brisk bullpen session Tuesday and followed with an efficient two innings in Saturday’s intrasquad game, with four strikeouts against the seven batters he faced. He said the time off allowed him to put more distance between the shoulder trouble that hampered his stamina and pinned him to the bullpen and closer role last year.

Adamant in having a five-man rotation, the Cardinals have Martínez and lefty positioned to compete for the final spot. The question will be answered in the coming week, and Shildt said Martínez has earned the opportunity to start. But the calendar will matter in a short 60-game dash, as well as where the team sees Martínez as most valuable. He could start and Kim then adds another left-handed look in the bullpen, or Martínez could resume closing with Jordan Hicks opting out of the 2020 season. Martínez, who had 24 saves last season, has the closing experience many on the Cards' pitching staff do not.