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Notes: Glorious comeback for Brebbia's 'misfits'

@anne__rogers
February 19, 2020

JUPITER, Fla. -- Anticipation loomed over the group of pitchers, some sitting and some standing, on Field 1. They were learning their fate in the annual pitchers' fundamental tournament held Wednesday morning, and pitching coach Mike Maddux was announcing who would be in the championship round.

JUPITER, Fla. -- Anticipation loomed over the group of pitchers, some sitting and some standing, on Field 1. They were learning their fate in the annual pitchers' fundamental tournament held Wednesday morning, and pitching coach Mike Maddux was announcing who would be in the championship round.

“Jack Flaherty?” Maddux asked in front of the group.

“Yeah,” Flaherty, one of the six captains, yelled back.

“Pay attention to what these guys are going to do,” Maddux said, letting Flaherty, then Tyler Webb in the same manner, know that their teams would not advance.

“Han Solo?” Maddux called out John Brebbia’s nickname. “Home or away?”

Brebbia’s group erupted. The misfits had made it.

“Backs against the wall, we want visiting team,” Brebbia shouted back.

With the championship event as bunting, Brebbia’s team prevailed against Team Andrew Miller. It was viewed around the clubhouse as quite the comeback after Brebbia’s drafting strategy involved taking Evan Kruczynski with his first pick (fifth overall) and adding Daniel Ponce de Leon, Ramon Santos, Seth Elledge and Bryan Dobzanski -- all non-roster invitees except for Ponce de Leon.

“Some people were calling us the Bad News Bears, some people were calling us the misfits,” Brebbia said. “We just kind of tuned that out.”

Manager Mike Shildt and his coaches put together the second annual PFP tournament Wednesday, giving the pitchers a day off from throwing bullpen sessions or live batting practice. Pitchers were drafted into six teams, with Flaherty, Webb, Brebbia, Miller, Adam Wainwright and Carlos Martínez as captains. Wainwright took Alex Reyes with the first overall pick, Miller took John Gant with the second and Martínez took Austin Gomber with the third.

After the draft and stretching, the groups began the preliminary rounds at each station -- bunting, covering home plate, covering first base, popups and rag ball, in which bullpen coach Bryan Eversgerd smacked a softer, bouncier ball to pitchers standing in front of a wall. If a player made a mistake -- not making a bunt, not making a catch, not covering the base properly -- the team was given a point, so the team with the lowest score was going to win.

Brebbia’s team did not start off strong at the rag ball station, but as the rotations went on, it got better. Or the other teams got worse -- no one will ever know, says Brebbia. Even in the championship match, Brebbia’s team was the strong underdog. Flaherty started shaking the batting cage when Ponce de Leon stepped in for his first bunt

“Game 7 isn’t quiet,” Brebbia shouted.

Afterward, Brebbia named Ponce de Leon as the MVP of his team to a group of reporters. Ponce de Leon was looking for redemption after being in the championship round last year and losing.

“So to watch him attack each station like he did today and carry this team to a championship was impressive,” Brebbia said.

The teams led by Wainwright and Martínez tied for the highest score at 38 mistakes. Players from those teams have to offer their services to Brebbia’s team for a day, which means getting it meals, water -- basically acting as assistants.

And the misfits will soak up the pride of winning the 2020 PFP tournament. Everyone loves an underdog, right?

“I knew we were winners,” Brebbia said. “We embrace the names people wanted to call us.”

Flaherty to open Grapefruit League games

Flaherty will start Saturday’s game to kick off Grapefruit League games, Shildt announced Wednesday. The Cardinals host the Mets at Roger Dean Stadium in Jupiter at 12:05 p.m. CT, and it will be broadcast on Fox Sports Midwest.

Flaherty will likely work two innings or throw about 30 pitches. Shildt wouldn’t say if Flaherty will also be the Cardinals’ Opening Day starter, but it’s a likely bet that the 24-year-old right-hander, who had a 0.91 ERA in the second half last season, will open this season on March 26 in Cincinnati.

“We’ll announce our Opening Day starter soon,” Shildt said with a smile. “We’ll talk to our players and then let you guys know.”

Shildt said he is starting to let the players know who will throw in Saturday’s opener and will have a list over the next couple of days.

Anne Rogers covers the Cardinals for MLB.com. Follow her on Twitter @anne__rogers and on Facebook.