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Flaherty to start Cardinals' Grapefruit opener

MLB.com @JoeTrezz

JUPITER, Fla. -- The Cardinals will tab rookie right-hander Jack Flaherty to start their Grapefruit League opener on Friday against the Marlins.

A former first-round Draft pick, Flaherty went 0-2 with a 6.33 ERA in six games (five starts) after a late callup last season, his first taste of big league action. He enters camp fighting for a spot in the back end of the rotation. MLB Pipeline ranks Flaherty as the No. 38 prospect in baseball.

JUPITER, Fla. -- The Cardinals will tab rookie right-hander Jack Flaherty to start their Grapefruit League opener on Friday against the Marlins.

A former first-round Draft pick, Flaherty went 0-2 with a 6.33 ERA in six games (five starts) after a late callup last season, his first taste of big league action. He enters camp fighting for a spot in the back end of the rotation. MLB Pipeline ranks Flaherty as the No. 38 prospect in baseball.

"I'm not going to sit here and be like, 'Wow, this is amazing!" Flaherty said about making the spring's first start. "But everybody here is ready to get going, get a few games under our belts. When the games get going, that's when the fun really begins to start."

Cardinals manager Mike Matheny tapped Flaherty on the shoulder after a bullpen session on Sunday to deliver the news. He did not detail to Flaherty how many pitches or innings he's scheduled to throw. Flaherty will be part of a group of Cardinals pitchers to throw the first live batting practice sessions of camp, scheduled for Tuesday. So far, his bullpens have spanned between 30-35 pitches.

:: Spring Training coverage presented by Camping World ::

"We have live bullpens tomorrow and there will be more discussions after that," Flaherty said. "I just want to see how everything is coming out, see if hitters will notice anything. It's really good to see how hitters are responding to your pitches."

The assignment brings more symmetry to the story of Flaherty, who started the final game of the 2017 regular season, and right-hander Luke Weaver. Drafted eight picks apart near the top of the '14 Draft, Weaver and Flaherty ascended the Cardinals' organization at roughly the same pace and are expected to push each another for the club's final rotation spot this spring.

Weaver, who is two years older, has the edge after a stellar 10-start debut as a rookie last season. He started the club's Grapefruit League opener last spring.

Now, it's Flaherty's turn.

"It means the start of the season," Flaherty said. "Everybody here is ready to go."

Video: STL@SF: Flaherty notches his first big league K

With bigger, better beard, Motte returns
The hugs came from every corner of the clubhouse, along with wide eyes and dropped jaws.

"That beard!" Adam Wainwright said, pushing through a media scrum to offer a hug.

"It's wavy!" Dexter Fowler squealed, running it through his fingers.

Jason Motte was all smiles on his first day back in the Cardinals' clubhouse in four years, but you could hardly see it under his scruff.

"It's about 27 different colors," Motte said, jokingly. "Black, red, brown -- probably a little food in there. My barber in Miami requested a shampoo to use."

Tweet from @JoeTrezz: ���That beard!��� - Adam Wainwright.���It���s wavy!��� - Dexter Fowler.Jason Motte had to shave last spring. He called it the worst two weeks of his life. ���Brutal!��� he said. #STLCards pic.twitter.com/jFJFSOvuSk

In camp on a Minor League deal that became official on Monday, Motte was welcomed back by old teammates from his 11 years in the Cardinals' organization (and Fowler, with whom he was teammates in 2015 with the Cubs). He has his old number, 30, and another chance with the club that drafted, converted and developed him -- and now needs bullpen help.

Whether Motte, invited to camp as a non-roster invitee, brings clarity to St. Louis' late-inning jumble remains to be seen. The former hard-thrower who notched 42 saves in 2012 now profiles as more of a depth option, and he'll have to outpitch younger, more high-octane arms for a roster spot. Motte pitched to a 3.99 ERA with declining strikeout rates over the last three seasons with the Cubs, Rockies and Braves, mostly in middle relief.

"The difference is now, I may not be throwing 100 [mph]," Motte said. "I'm just happy for the opportunity to put on the uniform again. The Cardinals drafted me in 2003, so it's been 15 years now. It's good to be back."

Cecil arrives in camp
Brett Cecil declined to discuss the personal matter that made him a week late for camp when he reported on Monday.

The southpaw did discuss his struggles against left-handed hitters last season. Lefties hit .343/.397/.539 against him last season, the first of a four-year, $30.5 million contract.

"I think [the results] surprised a lot of people," Cecil said. "I want to be better. I had an OK season, but it wasn't very enjoyable. It was just OK. I have to improve in a lot of areas."

The delayed start will put Cecil behind schedule, though he's still expected to be ready for Opening Day.

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

St. Louis Cardinals, Jack Flaherty