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Bowman looks to stick as Cards' ground-ball ace

MLB.com @LangoschMLB

JUPITER, Fla. -- There was a flashback, Matt Bowman admitted, when he walked into the Cardinals' spring clubhouse for the start of camp. It had been a year since he first entered the same space, uncertain whether he'd find a home with this organization, and, if so, how he would fit.

Bowman, a Rule 5 pick then, comes now with a year of Major League service time and a proven repertoire that the Cardinals believe can help fill the void left by Seth Maness' departure.

JUPITER, Fla. -- There was a flashback, Matt Bowman admitted, when he walked into the Cardinals' spring clubhouse for the start of camp. It had been a year since he first entered the same space, uncertain whether he'd find a home with this organization, and, if so, how he would fit.

Bowman, a Rule 5 pick then, comes now with a year of Major League service time and a proven repertoire that the Cardinals believe can help fill the void left by Seth Maness' departure.

It was Bowman's ability to induce ground-ball contact that so intrigued the Cardinals when they were mulling whether to make a selection in the 2015 Rule 5 Draft. They looked past the numbers Bowman had just posted in a hitter-friendly home park and decided he was worth a chance.

Bowman impressed last spring, earned a roster spot and never relinquished it. By the end of the year, Bowman had emerged as one of the team's most trusted relievers. His 59 appearances were the most by a Cardinals Rule 5 pitcher in his first year with the club.

"It's a high expectation when you have to make the team and stick," manager Mike Matheny said. "It was impressive what he was able to do. He comes in [this year] with the same mindset -- that I have to make the team all over again. He realizes where he is. He's a smart kid."

Video: STL@CIN: Bowman escapes bases-loaded jam in the 7th

Bowman acknowledges the reality that he actually has less leverage this spring than he did a year ago, when, if the Cardinals had not placed him on their Opening Day roster, the right-hander would have been offered back to the Mets. Now, the Cardinals can shuttle Bowman back to the Minors without limitation.

"This year there is in-between ground," Bowman said. "And I expect them to utilize that if I don't earn my spot on the team."

The Cardinals hope that's not necessary, as they're grooming Bowman to be the bullpen ground-ball specialist that Maness once was. Using a sinker-slider-changeup mix, Bowman ranked sixth among all National League relievers with a ground-ball percentage of 62.1 and fourth with his 4.00 ground ball-to-fly ball ratio in his rookie season.

He led the team with 17 multi-inning appearances, induced eight double plays and stranded 17 of 24 inherited runners, including the bases loaded three times.

"If I can have success and be in that role, that would be fantastic," Bowman said of following in Maness' footsteps. "My role changed a lot last year, and I didn't read too much into it. If they trust me enough to go in with runners on base, I'll try to make sure I don't let them down."

Jenifer Langosch has covered the Cardinals for MLB.com since 2012, and previously covered the Pirates from 2007-11. Read her blog, follow her on Twitter, like her Facebook page and listen to her podcast.

St. Louis Cardinals, Matt Bowman