Mets 3, Cardinals 2

Jenifer Langosch/MLB.com

The Cardinals lost their third straight game — and sixth of their last eight — but this one had a lot more good than bad in it, beginning with Jake Westbrook. Though he gave up a two-run homer to Lucas Duda, Westbrook had, by far, his strongest start of the spring.

Using only 76 pitches (50 strikes), Westbrook finished six innings for the first time this spring. The accumulation of ground ball outs (12 out of 18) was further evidence of an effective sinker. It’s a critical pitch in Westbrook’s repertoire and one that, before today, had been inconsistent this spring. That, Westbrook said, had a lot to do with finding the right timing within his delivery.

“I don’t get too frustrated with [the sinker] early on because I know it’s a work in progress every year to find that release point and figure out what I need to do to get locked in and be consistent with it,” Westbrook said. “And hopefully I can build off of this and continue on with that consistency.”

After logging only 8 1/3 innings in his first three Grapefruit League starts combined, Westbrook seems to be right where he needs to be two weeks out from the regular season. He’ll make two more spring starts before lining up as the fourth pitcher in the Cardinals’ rotation.

“I thought he really used those off-speed pitches, especially his curveball very well,” manager Mike Matheny said of Westbrook’s performance on Monday. “He used it early in the count and actually slowed them down a little bit. It was good to see. He had good life on his sinker and obviously the groundballs are a pretty good indicator that he is where he needs to be.”

***

Chris Carpenter made a surprise visit to the Cardinals’ spring complex on Monday and will be around here for the next week. While he admits it is still hard to be in camp and unable to pitch, there’s no question that his visit was uplifting to those in the clubhouse. They clearly love Carpenter’s presence, and even if he’s watching from the stands, Carpenter will surely pass along some of his observations before departing.

Click here for a story on his status and corresponding video of Carpenter addressing questions about his health, future, and visit.

***

Speaking of video, take a look at this footage, which captures a heck of a throw from right fielder Oscar Taveras to get a runner trying to move first to third on a single. Taveras showed flashes of his potential all day — there was that throw, aggressive baserunning (he was thrown out trying to go second to home on a throw to second that got away) and speed (he beat out a grounder for an infield single).

There were also, though, still reminders of the polishing that needs to be done. He took a circuitous route to a ball that Travis d’Arnaud hit to deep right  in the seventh and it dropped in for a double. It made for a talking point with Matheny afterward.

“We have to remind him that this is not just an everyday game, it’s an every play game,” Matheny said. “And that ball hit to right field, I asked him what he thought about that, and he said he thought he had a bad route. I said, ‘That’s a great observation.’ A lot of that has to do with his preparation. As we’ve watched these guys — and we’ve tried to get a lot of exposure to them so that we can see things like that — that’s something that he knows is a big deal to us, being ready every single pitch.”

Thanks in large part to Carlos Beltran’s World Baseball Classic absence, Taveras has played in 15 games this spring. He is hitting .300.

***

Speaking of Beltran, he and Yadier Molina are going to end up being gone from Cardinals camp for 18 days due to their Classic participation. The pair is on the Puerto Rican team, which will play in the Classic finals on Tuesday. That leaves Wednesday as a travel day back to Florida and Thursday as the day they should be back in camp.

Here’s an interesting story about the impact that both Molina and Beltran are having in getting Puerto Rican baseball back on the radar.

***

Two other quick notes:

  • As I posted earlier on Twitter, Matheny has a website and blog that are up and running — http://mikematheny.com/ — on which he will primarily post information that he hopes will help parents and children change the culture of youth sports. Matheny said he will also provide an insiders perspectives on some of the goings on in the Cardinals clubhouse.
  • As noted in this morning’s blog entry, I’ve set up a (for pride, not prizes) NCAA bracket challenge for any readers who want to participate against other Cardinals fans and yours truly. You can access the By Gosh Bracket Challenge by going here.

***

The Cardinals have still not committed to a fifth starter for the season — so that battle will again be the focus of Tuesday’s game against the Marlins. This time it will be Shelby Miller getting the start and Joe Kelly coming in to pitch in relief.

Follow me on Twitter: @LangoschMLB

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