Matheny releases statement on Taveras tragedy

Jenifer Langosch/MLB.com

Since the day he took over as manager of the Cardinals, Mike Matheny has asked for his players to buy into the team as a family. He considers each player, each coach as a member of his family, and that is why you’ll find his words below so poignant and powerful. This is a manager who, like so many others in the Cardinals family, is hurting very deeply.

Matheny and general manager John Mozeliak are traveling to the Dominican Republic today to visit the Taveras family and represent the organization at a Wednesday funeral service.

Here is Matheny’s statement:

“I was asked last night to give some words regarding the tragic death of Oscar Taveras, but I just simply couldn’t.

“First of all, it felt like a bad dream that could not be real, and when reality kicked in, my words didn’t even seem to make sense. To say this is a horrible loss of a life ended too soon would be an understatement. To talk about the potential of his abilities seemed to be untimely. All I wanted to do was get the guys together and be with our baseball family.  I know the hurt that comes along with buying into the brotherhood of a baseball team. That hurt is just as powerful as the joys that come with this life. Not to say it is even close to the depth of pain his true family is going through, but the pain itself is just as real. The ache is deep because the relationships were deep, and forged through time and trials.

“To the many fans who have already reached out with condolences, and to the many more who are in mourning, thank you for taking these players in, like they are one of your own. This level of care is what sets our fans apart.

“In my opinion, the word “love” is the most misused, and misunderstood word in the English language. It is not popular for men to use this word, and even less popular for athletes. But, there is not a more accurate word for how a group of men share a deep and genuine concern for each other. We loved Oscar, and he loved us. That is what a team does, that is what a family does. You will be missed, Oscar.”

A jovial young man, a budding superstar, lost too soon

Jenifer Langosch/MLB.com

Toward the end of the regular season, I joked with Oscar Taveras that he had been around long enough that he could stop calling me ‘ma’am’ during each of our interactions. I told him it made me feel old, though, in fairness, I guess I was to him, a 22-year-old kid. He laughed and noted that he probably wouldn’t be able to break the habit. That’s how he had been taught, he added.

And then he shook my hand.

Almost every one of our conversations — and goodness, now I know we didn’t have enough of them — ended with a handshake and a smile. Always gracious with his time and ever eager to show off how far his English speaking skills had come, Taveras brought joy to my job. He had such a sweet swing, but also the heart to match it. I’m glad I got to know that part of him, too.

For all the negative storylines that may have emerged from his season — Would he live up to the hype? Could he get in shape? Did he fit in the clubhouse? — there was never one iota of doubt that Taveras loved what he did. He was a respectful young man, trying to find his way in a game that had always come so naturally to him. Had he been given the chance to have a full career, I’m sure he would have gotten there.

We’ll always remember this…

http://mlb.mlb.com/mlb/gameday/index.jsp?gid=2014_05_31_sfnmlb_slnmlb_1&mode=video&content_id=33333153&tcid=vpp_copy_33333153

And this…

http://mlb.mlb.com/mlb/gameday/index.jsp?gid=2014_10_12_sfnmlb_slnmlb_1&mode=video&content_id=36800103&tcid=vpp_copy_36800103

Those were two swings that, now we know, bookended a career cut so tragically short.

The emotions are still raw, the suddenness of this all too real. As the baseball world was getting ready to tune into Game 5 of the World Series, general manager John Mozeliak received a phone call that punched him in his gut. Manager Mike Matheny declined interview requests, noting he couldn’t get himself composed enough to speak publically just yet.

Matheny has worked hard to create a clubhouse culture where players and staff are like family. You’ll understand, then, why this hits the organization like the loss of a family member.

The Cardinals will release further information on funeral arrangements in the coming days. More information about the accident will also be learned.

For now, let me direct you to MLB.com’s coverage of this tragedy and the memories that remain of a kid with such a genuine love for life and baseball:

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Oscar Taveras killed in car accident

Jenifer Langosch/MLB.com

The Cardinals were hit with devastating news on Sunday, when it was learned that top prospect Oscar Taveras was killed in a car accident back home in the Dominican Republic. Taveras’ agent, Brian Mejia, confirmed the news to MLB.com. Reached by phone, general manager John Mozeliak said that he, too, had heard from Mejia, but that the organization was waiting for a few more details before confirming the news with a public statement.

Mozeliak did say: “Obviously, we have deep condolences to his family. We are still waiting for more details before issuing a full statement.”

Taveras was 22.

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A change of seasons. And a thank you.

Jenifer Langosch/MLB.com

Forgive me for not posting this thank you earlier, but season wrap-up duties and a spot on our MLB.com World Series coverage team has kept me quite busy since the Cardinals’ season ended last Thursday. In fact, I’m back in San Francisco right now, though this time to assist with coverage of Missouri’s other postseason participant.

Anyways, as you all continue with the transition from in-season to offseason, I did want to pause and offer a sincere thanks to all who have followed MLB.com’s coverage during this 2014 ride. I have enjoyed interacting with many of you through various social media forums, and I appreciate you making cardinals.com a regular stop as you seek comprehensive Cardinals coverage. I know you all have limited time and so many other options, so thank you for sticking around.

For those who may visit this blog more regularly than the other sites I maintain, let me encourage you to make Cardinals.com your primary stop. That is where you will continue to find the most comprehensive team coverage, including this offseason, as I’ll be posting stories almost daily over there. This blog will serve as a supplement to that coverage, but it won’t be updated as frequently.

For those connected through social media, I will continue to provide daily updates on Twitter (@LangoschMLB) and Facebook (Jenifer Langosch for Cardinals.com). I also maintain a Flipboard page (St. Louis Cardinals for MLB.com) for those who like to consume their news on a tablet.

As mentioned above, you can expect regular Cardinals content throughout the offseason in order to keep you up-to-date on player movement, Hot Stove speculation and 2015 projections. For those who may have missed it, several stories have already been posted this week:

Again, thank you for your continued interaction and interest.

Wainwright undergoes right elbow surgery

Jenifer Langosch/MLB.com

After pitching through on-and-off elbow discomfort this season, Cardinals ace Adam Wainwright had a piece of cartilage trimmed from his right elbow on Friday. The procedure is not expected to affect his readiness for Spring Training, as Wainwright should be able to resume throwing in eight weeks, after six weeks of physical therapy.

The Cardinals confirmed the surgery after the fact, this news coming just days after general manager John Mozeliak announced that doctors had examined Wainwright’s elbow last Friday and prescribed him rest. After that press conference, Wainwright received a second opinion on his elbow, at which time it was determined that surgery was the best way to address the issue. He had an MRI as part of both examinations.

Wainwright missed one start due to elbow tendinitis in June and then fought through discomfort at various points afterward. There were times when Wainwright had to alter his mechanics as a result, though he repeatedly insisted that he was not concerned that continuing to pitch would cause additional damage to his ulnar collateral ligament, which was repaired when he underwent Tommy John surgery in 2011.

Talk about his elbow problems went away in September, when Wainwright went 5-0 with a 1.38 ERA to help lead the Cardinals to a division title. But it quickly resurfaced during the postseason when manager Mike Matheny hinted that Wainwright was not at full strength. Wainwright couldn’t get through five innings in either of his first two playoff starts.

Nevertheless, the organization referred to reports about Wainwright pitching through elbow pain this postseason as “overblown.” Wainwright did quiet the speculation, at least briefly, with a strong seven-inning start in Game 5 of the National League Championship Series. It would be the last time he pitched.

The assumption regarding Wainwright’s elbow issues was that it had to do with the fatigue of throwing 519 2/3 innings since the start of the 2013 season. No Major League pitcher has carried a heavier two-year workload. Mozeliak had already said the club will be more deliberate in curtailing that workload next year so as to avoid putting such a strain on Wainwright’s arm.

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Oscar Taveras on weight, winter ball

Jenifer Langosch/MLB.com

Hours before Oscar Taveras hit the second of four Cardinals homers in Game 2, general manager John Mozeliak offered some pointed comments about the rookie right-fielder’s season and what is expected of him this offseason. If you missed the full story, you can catch up on the details here.

Since then, Taveras, speaking to MLB.com Spanish reporter David Venn, addressed some of those comments, including the topics of weight and winter ball.

“I’m a little heavy; I’ve gained a few pounds,” Taveras said. “But I’m working on that, and physically I feel good. When this [season] is over, I’m really going to prepare myself. I’m going to come back [to St. Louis] less heavy and ready for next year.”

Speculation is that Taveras has gained about 20 pounds since undergoing ankle surgery last August.

When asked about the possibility of Taveras playing winter ball this offseason, Mozeliak said he would prefer to have the young outfielder engage in a stringent and supervised workout regimen, preferably here in the US. Getting Taveras in shape, Mozeliak said, was more a priority than getting Taveras additional at-bats.

Taveras, however, said he would like to play for the Aguilas Cibaenas club in the Dominican Winter League.

“That’s the decision I’ve made,” Taveras said. “Now I have to wait and see what the team says. But I’ve decided I want to play at least in December to keep in shape and keep working on my routine, my personal training. I need to play more. That’s why I want to play, to get in shape.”

It was unclear whether Taveras and the Cardinals have had a conversation yet about Taveras’ offseason plans. There is always the potential that the two sides come to some sort of compromise that would allow Taveras to play just a portion of the DWL season.

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NLCS Game 3: Cardinals (1-1) @ Giants (1-1)

Jenifer Langosch/MLB.com

wpid-img_20141014_094135283.jpgIt’s not much of a surprise, but now it is official: Yadier Molina will not start Game 3. Despite Molina’s insistence on Monday that he will play again this postseason, the reality is that he is dealing with an injury that rarely goes away in 48 hours. For that (and other reasons), it made too much sense not to go with A.J. Pierzynski behind the plate.

Though this will be Pierzynski’s first start since Sept. 11, he has a season-long history with Game 3 starter John Lackey. They have been batterymates 20 times this season, and both are plenty comfortable with the arrangement. It doesn’t hurt, either, that Pierzynski is 8-for-21 in his career against Giants starter Tim Hudson.

Surely, San Francisco is ready to welcome Pierzynski back, too… with raining boos. He never endeared himself to the folks here during his one season (2004) as a Giant. San Francisco traded a lot of talent (Joe Nathan, Francisco Liriano) to acquire Pierzynski, then released him after one season.

Molina had started 83 straight postseason games for the Cardinals before today.

With Molina out of the lineup, Pierzynski will also slide up into the sixth spot in the batting order. Manager Mike Matheny is sticking with Randal Grichuk in right field, apparently still siding with defense over Oscar Taveras. Peter Bourjos would have been another strong defensive option in this ballpark, but he remains on the bench.

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Molina remaining on NLCS roster, hopes to play

Jenifer Langosch/MLB.com

A day after suffering a left oblique injury that he described as the “worst pain I have ever felt in my career,” Yadier Molina played catch out on the AT&T Park outfield grass and spoke adamantly afterward that his season is not over.

The Cardinals have characterized Molina’s condition as day-to-day, and manager Mike Matheny confirmed on Monday that the club will keep Molina on its active postseason roster. Not only does that keep Molina as an option for this best-of-seven National League Championship Series, but it would also allow him the chance to play if the Cardinals advance to the World Series.

Major League Baseball requires that any player taken off the active roster in the postseason also sit in the subsequent round. That means a move now would effectively end Molina’s year.

“That’s a tough rule with having to lose him not just the rest of this [series], but if we were fortunate enough to move on, we wouldn’t have him, as well,” Matheny said. “Right now it’s just looking at what he could bring to the table and he could bring the ability to come into a game and help us out defensively, and hopefully improve to the point where we could use him offensively, as well. We don’t know. It’s just to make a knee jerk reaction right now, I don’t think is the best decision for our club.”

Molina did not swing a bat on Monday, but he did play catch and reported feeling much looser than expected when he woke up this morning. The Cardinals delayed their charter flight out of St. Louis after Game 2 so that Molina, who had left the ballpark to be examined, could join them on the trip.

“I woke up moving a little better,” Molina said. “I feel good enough to catch.”

Molina said he first felt discomfort on his left side when he singled in his first at-bat on Sunday. That sensation is what led Molina to lay down a sacrifice bunt his next time up. In his third at-bat, Molina never budged from the batters’ box as the Giants turned a double play.

Asked to describe how he felt at that moment, Molina said, “It’s like someone is nailing you with a knife. It’s a tough pain.”

That’s why both player and team were pleasantly surprised at how much improved Molina was the day after. Molina didn’t rule out returning to the field as early as Tuesday, though being included in the starting lineup would require he first test his oblique with some swings.

He received several forms of treatment on Monday, including massage therapy, STEM therapy and ice. He is also taking oral medication to try and expedite the recovery process. Molina said concerns about reaggravating his side will not keep him off the field.

“Right now, you can’t think about it,” Molina said. “Right now, you have to go out and give everything you have, even if it’s 50 percent. Go for your team and for yourself and try to win games. You can’t think about anything else.

“If I get the chance to play again, I won’t think about my side. I’m going to think about winning the game. I’ll take care of my side here in the clubhouse, but when I’m out there, I won’t think about it.”

Even if Molina isn’t cleared to resume swinging, Matheny said he wouldn’t rule out sending the veteran backstop into the field as a defensive replacement while the recovery process is ongoing.

“If we have a small lead, there’s no reason why we couldn’t do that, from what I saw [of him catching on Monday],” Matheny said. “We needed to see Yadi move around a little bit today and see him throw. He answered questions that. Quite honestly, I didn’t think we would be able to answer the way that we are right now. That’s encouraging for us and encouraging for our club.

“Once again we’ll take him in any capacity, even if it’s a cheerleader on the bench. But to have him active and as a weapon to be able to brought in late in the game, that is very valuable to us.”

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NLCS Game 1: Giants (0-0) @ Cardinals (0-0)

Jenifer Langosch/MLB.com

wpid-img_20141011_165550427.jpgThe Cardinals open their best-of-seven series against the Giants tonight with Adam Wainwright on the mound. San Francisco will counter with Madison Bumgarner, who has a 0.78 ERA (two earned runs; 23 innings pitched) in three career playoff road starts. He hasn’t allowed a run on the road in his last 19 innings the third-longest such streak in Giants history.

Wainwright (who insists his right elbow is fine) has some sterling postseason numbers of his own, however. Of the 12 Cardinals pitchers with at least 15 innings pitched in the NLCS, Wainwright has the lowest ERA (1.59).

The Cardinals have again included four left-handed batters against Bumgarner and have little hesitation doing so given the left-on-left success this club had against the Dodgers last round.

So how important is winning Game 1? Since the LCS was implemented in 1969, 30 of the 44 NL teams to win Game 1 have gone on to win the series. In more recent times, though, that margin hasn’t been so wide. Since 2005, the Game 1 winner is 5-4 in the NLCS. The Cardinals are 5-2 in Game 1 of the NLCS when playing it at home.

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Cardinals set NLCS roster

Jenifer Langosch/MLB.com

Comfortable in trimming their bullpen back to seven, the Cardinals have opted to add catcher A.J. Pierzynski onto their 25-man roster for the National League Championship Series. The organization opened that roster spot by removing lefty Sam Freeman, who walked the only two batters he faced in the NL Division Series.

By adding Pierzynski as a third catcher, the Cardinals allow themselves the flexibility to use either the left-handed hitting Pierzynski or the right-handed hitting Tony Cruz in a pinch-hit spot. With only two catchers last round, the Cardinals had to hold off on using Cruz in case he was needed for emergency catching duty later in the game. He never was.

Here is the full roster breakdown:

  • Starting pitchers: Adam Wainwright, Lance Lynn, John Lackey and Shelby Miller
  • Relievers: Trevor Rosenthal, Pat Neshek, Marco Gonzales, Randy Choate, Carlos Martinez, Seth Maness, Michael Wacha
  • Catchers: Yadier Molina, Tony Cruz, Pierzynski
  • Infielders: Matt Adams, Kolten Wong, Jhonny Peralta, Matt Carpenter, Daniel Descalso, Pete Kozma
  • Outfielders: Matt Holliday, Jon Jay, Randal Grichuk, Oscar Taveras, Peter Bourjos

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