JUPITER, Fla. -- Having already caught the eye of many within the organization through the first two weeks of his first Spring Training, Michael Wacha further validated early impressions with an efficient two-inning Grapefruit League debut on Saturday.
Wacha, the team's top pick (No. 19 overall) in the 2012 First-Year Player Draft, threw a first-pitch strike to each of the eight hitters he faced. His pitch total climbed only to 21 over those two innings, with 19 of those pitches being strikes.
"I look at it as a great opportunity to go out there and take advantage," said the 21-year-old righty. "One of the things I'm trying to do here in Spring Training is take advantage of the opportunity and learn as much as I can, and go out there and compete as best I can."
Wacha followed Trevor Rosenthal and inherited a three-run deficit in the third inning. A two-base error by David Freese opened the door for the Marlins to score once off Wacha, who allowed an RBI single to Jeff Mathis.
He did not allow another baserunner in the appearance and needed only five pitches to retire the side in the fourth inning. He pitched that frame, too, after having to sit in the dugout during a long top half of the inning. When it was finally time for Wacha to return to the mound, Adam Wainwright challenged the young righty to have a quick inning.
Wacha responded with a strikeout and pair of first-pitch groundouts.
"His poise has probably been one of his greatest assets since he walked in here," manager Mike Matheny said afterward. "He's just a guy who carries himself older and more experienced than he is. He's gone about it the right way. He's asking a lot of questions. He's trying to use this as a learning experience. And today was another step in that direction."
Rosenthal presses in effort to earn rotation spot
JUPITER, Fla. -- The first candidate in the Cardinals' three-way competition for the fifth spot in the rotation took the mound on Saturday and looked as if he may have been trying a bit too hard to impress.
Given the chance to make the start, Trevor Rosenthal endured a 46-pitch, two-inning spring debut in which he gave up four runs on five hits and a pair of walks. He admitted afterward that the anticipation of making his first game appearance since last October played a role in his inability to maintain an ideal tempo.
"As a starter, you definitely have to command the zone," Rosenthal said. "That's something that got away a little bit in the second inning. Like I said, just trying to do a little bit too much, be a little bit too fine. I just need to go out there and attack the hitters a little bit better and get those first-pitch outs and first-pitch swings, instead of falling behind in the count."
Rosenthal threw 22 pitches (18 strikes) in the first inning and allowed three hard-hit base knocks. His command waned in the second inning, when only 10 of his 24 pitches were strikes.
"He was trying to put a little extra on it when he didn't need to," manager Mike Matheny said. "He was talking about how good he feels and that first time out, he was anxious. He got out there early [to warm up] and threw a lot of pitches in the 'pen. I was trying to hold him back but he was raring, ready to go. I think he was trying to put a little more on it than he needed to do."
Rosenthal is jockeying for a rotation spot against Joe Kelly and Shelby Miller, both of whom are expected to make their first Grapefruit League appearances next week. Miller was slated to start Sunday's game until shoulder soreness briefly interrupted his throwing program. As a result, Miller's first outing likely won't come until after Kelly takes the mound.
The Cardinals are looking past mere results in their evaluations of the three young pitchers, and how Rosenthal adjusts his tempo when he takes the mound next will carry some significance in the team's assessment.
"It's been a while since I've been able to get that start, so the routine was a little bit different," Rosenthal said. "I had to make some adjustments there to find out what works for me and then get comfortable. It's a challenge, and I'm going to keep looking to improve."
Craig held out of lineup in precautionary move
JUPITER, Fla. -- The Cardinals' starting lineup for Saturday's Grapefruit League opener featured most of the team's projected starters. There were two obvious omissions, though, as Rafael Furcal and Allen Craig were deliberately held back by manager Mike Matheny.
Furcal's absence was expected given his slowed spring program. The shortstop is still dealing with right elbow pain and has not been cleared to throw at max effort. When he does begin to make game appearances, it will be as a designated hitter. Matheny said that first DH appearance could come as early as Sunday, though the switch-hitting Furcal will only swing from the right side for now.
The decision to keep Craig out, Matheny explained, was in response to some achiness Craig has been feeling in his right shoulder. Both parties downplayed the issue, noting that the move to sit Craig was merely precautionary.
"We realize it throws out a whole lot of caution flags and it throws out a lot of headlines," Matheny said. "Those are risks we're willing to take to make sure we're real cautious. Sometimes a little bit of extra time goes a long way."
Craig has been participating in almost all of the workout drills, though he did stand on the sidelines Thursday when the infielders were throwing around and across the diamond. He hit but did not play the field in Friday's intrasquad game.
"I'm fine. I'm fine," Craig said on Saturday morning. "We're just taking it slow. It's not a big deal at all."
• Jaime Garcia will make his first spring start on Tuesday, when the Cardinals travel to Fort Myers, Fla., to face the Red Sox. After dealing with a left shoulder injury for much of the 2012 season, Garcia has enjoyed an uninhibited spring so far.
• With four successful bunts in 10 attempts, Pete Kozma took the team's bunting championship over Michael Blazek and bench coach Mike Aldrete. Kozma advanced to the finals by winning the position player competition. Blazek represented the pitchers. Aldrete came out of the coaches' bracket.
Manager Mike Matheny said that he'll likely hold another bunting challenge later in camp so that the starting pitchers have an opportunity to redeem themselves.
• Though pitchers will not take at-bats in Grapefruit League games until later in the schedule, the Cardinals' starters began their hitting program during the morning workout on Saturday.
• Ty Wigginton, one of the Cardinals' three free-agent acquisitions over the winter, is expected to start at first base on Sunday. Wigginton served as the team's designated hitter for the first part of Saturday's game.
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, By Gosh, It's Langosch, and follow her on Twitter @LangoschMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.