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Oquendo unifying force in Cards clubhouse

'The secret weapon' returns, providing invaluable resource on and off the field
MLB.com @JoeTrezz

JUPITER, Fla. -- A collaborative circle formed in a corner of the Cardinals clubhouse Thursday morning. Such congregations aren't rare around Yadier Molina's locker, where veteran players often gravitate while the eight-time All-Star holds court. 

The topic: baserunning. Stealing bases, specifically. When it's smart, when it isn't. From one corner slugger Marcell Ozuna, shared his perspective. In the other, speedy Dexter Fowler offered his view. Tommy Pham chimed in. Jedd Gyorko, Greg Garcia and Molina too. At the center, moderating, sat one of the few men who can rival Molina in terms of Cardinal Nation reverance: Jose Oquendo.

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JUPITER, Fla. -- A collaborative circle formed in a corner of the Cardinals clubhouse Thursday morning. Such congregations aren't rare around Yadier Molina's locker, where veteran players often gravitate while the eight-time All-Star holds court. 

The topic: baserunning. Stealing bases, specifically. When it's smart, when it isn't. From one corner slugger Marcell Ozuna, shared his perspective. In the other, speedy Dexter Fowler offered his view. Tommy Pham chimed in. Jedd Gyorko, Greg Garcia and Molina too. At the center, moderating, sat one of the few men who can rival Molina in terms of Cardinal Nation reverance: Jose Oquendo.

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Consider it a snapshot of the influence of Oquendo, the fan favorite, and longtime coach who returned to the Major League staff this spring following a two-year absence.

"Those types of conversations are constantly happening, just most of the time not within earshot [of the media]," Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said. "I think you need really good teachers to help create that atmosphere, and Jose does a great job with that, naturally."

This will be Oquendo's 17th season as the Cardinals third-base coach, and his 31st with the organization in one way or another. After knee trouble forced him from the position prior to the 2016 season, the former utility player now reassumes a multifaceted role. Officially, the 54-year-old Oquendo will oversee the club's current crop of infielders, direct their positioning and serve as a resource in their preparation.

"He has great instincts," Garcia said. "He's very knowledgeable. He's an asset. He sees the game in a different light, the way he moves you. He's a step ahead when it comes to the situational stuff."

:: Spring Training coverage presented by Camping World ::

Though the baserunning duties officially fall to new assistant coach Willie McGee, the basepaths are a natural area of focus for Oquendo as third-base coach. The Cardinals hope he helps them improve from last year, when they ranked among the most reckless teams in baseball. St. Louis ran into 64 outs on the bases, second-most among National League clubs. Twenty-one of those outs came at home.

"He's our secret weapon," said shortstop Paul DeJong, citing Oquendo's well-known nickname. "He told me earlier this spring, 'Focus on your hitting.' I'll take care of everything else."

Injury update
Alex Reyes reported no issues after throwing 40 pitches in a scheduled live bullpen session against a mix of Major League and Minor League hitters. Reyes has been throwing to hitters every four days for nearly three weeks.

His session Thursday was his fourth of the spring, and his first following a brief appearance in a club intrasquad game over the weekend. Barring a setback, St. Louis' No.1 prospect according, to MLB Pipeline, appears poised to return from Tommy John surgery sometime near the club's soft May 1 target date.

It's unclear if Reyes' recovery schedule will allow him to appear in any Grapefruit League games. What is clear is that the Cardinals will not rush him to do so.

Video: Reyes looks to regain form after Tommy John surgery

Camp battle
Two days after playing nine innings at shortstop, Yairo Munoz dug into his locker, pulled out the largest of his three gloves, and started the Cardinals' 1-0 loss to the Orioles in left field. It was the fourth different position Matheny started Munoz at this spring, as the club continues to give the 23-year-old an extended look as a utility piece.

Video: Yairo Munoz is playing with those he once admired

Acquired from Oakland in the Stephen Piscotty trade over the winter, Munoz has played six positions over his six-year Minor League career. He's appeared everywhere but first base, catcher and pitcher, though the Cardinals believe he could play all nine in a pinch.

Starting at short Thursday was Garcia, who figures to return as the club's primary utility infielder. His hold on one of the few available bench roles means Munoz -- despite his infield adaptability -- is ostensibly fighting for a spot against fourth outfielder candidates Harrison Bader, Adolis Garcia, and to some extent Luke Voit.

Voit singled in three at-bats during Thursday's 1-0 loss to the Orioles. Bader, Garcia, and Munoz combined to go hitless in five at bats, with Munoz's 0-for-3 dipping his Grapefruit League average to .343.

Up Next
The Cardinals will play their first set of split-squad games this spring on Friday, when half the team stays home to play the Marlins and the other half travels to face the Nationals. Michael Wacha takes the mound in Jupiter, while Miles Mikolas starts in West Palm Beach, Fla., where he'll look to build on an impressive outing last time out. Both games start at 12:05 p.m. CT. You can watch both games live on MLB.TV.

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

St. Louis Cardinals