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Pham fine-tunes swing in modified Minors game

Outfielder hoping to avoid vision problems; Motte pursuing other big league opportunities
MLB.com @JoeTrezz

JUPITER, Fla. -- It's often said that slumping hitters are "not seeing the ball well" when things aren't going right at the plate. For Tommy Pham, the cliche means something more serious.

Pham's journey to solve vision problems is well documented. He toiled in the Minor Leagues for years before undergoing surgery to correct the effects of keratoconus, a degenerative condition that warps the shape of the cornea, in 2016. So when Pham used the phrase to describe his spring struggles, Cardinals manager Mike Matheny took notice.

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JUPITER, Fla. -- It's often said that slumping hitters are "not seeing the ball well" when things aren't going right at the plate. For Tommy Pham, the cliche means something more serious.

Pham's journey to solve vision problems is well documented. He toiled in the Minor Leagues for years before undergoing surgery to correct the effects of keratoconus, a degenerative condition that warps the shape of the cornea, in 2016. So when Pham used the phrase to describe his spring struggles, Cardinals manager Mike Matheny took notice.

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"We have to get Tommy going," Matheny said. "He needs to get his eyes working with his stroke. Obviously, they go hand in hand. I think it comes down to him seeing the ball the way he wants to."

The result was the club scratching Pham late before Saturday's 8-7 win over the Mets, opting instead for the center fielder to get at-bats in a Minor League game on the back fields.

:: Spring Training coverage presented by Camping World ::

Pham went 3-for-7 with a home run in a game that was modified to allow him to lead off every inning. He singled in five plate appearances against lefty Adam Conley, who made 20 Major League starts in 2017.

Pham said he's working to find comfort wearing his new contact lenses and iron out a mechanical problem that's attributed to his .170/.279/.340 line this spring.

"Right now, I'm trying to get my swing -- I'm sorry, my body position -- where it needs to be, first. Last year, when I left Spring Training, I was in a great position to hit. And that's what made me search out my vision. Right now, let me find my right position. Then I'll look into vision."

Pham hit .209/.320/.279 last spring before breaking out as the club's most productive offensive player following a callup in May.

"I had my worst spring last year, and I had my best season," Pham said. "That's what keeps me optimistic."

When asked if he expects his vision problems to resurface this season, Pham said, "we'll see."

Video: STL@BAL: Motte retires Schoop in the 4th

Motte pursues other opportunities

There was a chance reliever Jason Motte could return to the organization after being granted his unconditional release earlier in the week, but the Cardinals learned Saturday that he would not. Motte decided to pursue another big league opportunity rather than accept an assignment to Triple-A Memphis, according to the club.

The Cardinals released Motte, 35, on Thursday in a required procedural move after informing him he wouldn't make the club. Because of his service time, St. Louis was required to allot Motte 48 hours to seek another Major League job before reassigning him. Because Motte, who lives in Memphis, rejected the assignment, it could hint at a big league chance somewhere else.

A 19th-round Draft pick by the Cardinals in 2003, Motte converted from a light-hitting Minors catcher to a hard-throwing big league closer over a decade in the St. Louis organization. He returned to the club this spring after one-year stints with the Cubs, Rockies and Braves, during which he was a middle reliever.

"It was one of those bittersweet things when he was walking out the door," Matheny said. "Hopeful for him he has a big league spot, but I understand where he is coming from."

Motte showed increased velocity this spring, often reaching 96 mph with a fastball that had declined in recent years. Results were tougher to come by. Motte had a 10.13 ERA over six Grapefruit League appearances.

Video: C. Martinez tabbed for 2018 Opening Day start

Martinez preps for opener

As the Cardinals faced the Mets -- their first regular-season opponent -- on the main field, Carlos Martinez pitched against Marlins Minor Leaguers alongside Pham. He threw 55 pitches over four strong innings, striking out six and allowing one run in his final tuneup before Opening Day.

Martinez is scheduled to make his second consecutive Opening Day start Thursday in New York.

Up next

The Cardinals conclude Grapefruit League play Sunday with a 12:05 pm CT tilt against the Nationals in West Palm Beach, Fla., live on MLB.TV, before flying to Montreal for two exhibition games against the Blue Jays. Adam Wainwright gets the start for St. Louis, which has officially announced 24 of 25 players that will open the season on its Major League roster.

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

St. Louis Cardinals, Carlos Martinez, Jason Motte, Tommy Pham