Out for almost a month, Beltran feels good in return
Outfielder not limited by fractured right small toe, plans to play while it heals
PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- Cardinals outfielder Carlos Beltran, who has been nursing an injured toe for nearly a month, returned to Grapefruit League action on Tuesday and seemed to come out of the on-field test with little reason for additional concern.
Playing in his first Spring Training game since Feb. 28, Beltran played 6 1/2 innings in the Cardinals' 11-4 win over the Mets. He reached base three times -- via a single and two walks -- stole a base and scored once. Beltran's mobility wasn't tested much in right field, as only two balls -- a fly ball and a ground-ball single -- came his way.
While Beltran has said he expects his fractured right small toe to be a source of pain for a while, he had no obvious limitations on Tuesday because of the injury.
"He promised me that he was fine," manager Mike Matheny said afterward. "He ran really hard on that first ground ball and turned around and smiled at me. I think he was happy to get back in there. My concern wasn't as much [hitting] as watching his movements. He was running well."
As long as the discomfort in his toe is tolerable, Beltran said he plans to play while it heals.
Holliday removed from lineup with tightness in side
PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- Cardinals manager Mike Matheny wanted to take no chances when Matt Holliday approached him shortly before Tuesday's game to let him know that he felt some tightness in his left side. He pulled Holliday from the lineup, replacing the left fielder with Oscar Taveras.
Afterward, though, both Holliday and Matheny minimized the issue, noting that the late lineup shakeup was purely precautionary and little reason for long-term concern. That's certainly a bit of good news for a Cardinals club that has been stung with a growing list of injuries in recent days.
"Everything is fine," said Holliday, before leaving the clubhouse. "They just [didn't] want me to play."
"He got plenty loose and his batting practice was probably as impressive as any I've ever seen," added Matheny. "He was launching balls all over the plate. He knows that I don't like to push him when he feels something. I'm real proud of the fact that he was honest with me. I'm not concerned."
There's a chance, Matheny said, that Holliday could be back on the field as early as Wednesday. Holliday is 10-for-39 this spring with five extra-base hits and five RBIs.
Wainwright pleased with final Opening Day tuneup
PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- Overcoming some early inefficiency, Adam Wainwright wrapped up his final Grapefruit League outing -- a six-inning test against the Mets -- by pushing his pitch count to 97. It was, Wainwright said afterward, exactly where he wanted to be as he sits six days away from pitching the Cardinals' season opener in Arizona.
St. Louis' ace needed 58 of those pitches to get through the first three innings, but then closed his performance by throwing 31 of the final 39 pitches for strikes. The Mets, who scored a run of Wainwright in the first and third, didn't push another run home in those final three frames.
"I really wanted to get into the 90s today," Wainwright said after his sixth spring start. "That was important to me. [Pitching coach Derek Lilliquist] asked me if I wanted to be done after 85 and I said, 'No, I need one more [inning].' I want to be comfortable going into that 100-pitch count range that first day. I think now I definitely will be."
Wainwright wraps up his spring having allowed 16 hits and five earned runs in his last four Grapefruit League outings (21 1/3 innings). According to the radar gun at Tradition Field, Wainwright's fastball velocity sat mostly in the upper 80s on Tuesday. Neither he, nor manager Mike Matheny, expressed concern about that number, even though it's lower than what he desires to hit during the regular season.
"I think there were times that I threw the ball harder than it said, but I'm really not all that worried about it," Wainwright said. "I think in '08, '09 and '10 and definitely in '11, I did not throw a ball over 88 [mph] in Spring Training. Wherever I'm at now is more than that."
On a day when his fastball command wasn't at its best, Wainwright used his curveball effectively. His changeup has also gotten crisper as the spring has progressed, and it's a pitch Wainwright intends to use with more frequency.
"I thought he did a great job," Matheny said. "We got him into the upper-90s in his count. I thought he pitched out of trouble, which he does as well as anybody we have. I thought he did a nice job overall."
After talk with Eldred, Choate adjusts his mechanics
PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- The Cardinals chose to let reliever Randy Choate skip Monday's road trip to Fort Myers, preferring that he face hitters in a Minor League game. The day's biggest benefit, though, may have come after that backfield work, during the hour-long conversation Choate had with former big league pitcher Cal Eldred.
Eldred, now a special assistant to general manager John Mozeliak, and Choate talked mechanics. Eldred pointed out what he had identified as the reasons behind Choate's pitches being flat and his command inconsistent as of late. The chat came on the heels of Choate going four appearances without retiring any of the six batters he faced.
"I haven't really talked mechanics with anybody this spring because they've just let me do my thing," Choate said on Tuesday. "He just told me what he saw. That was a big key. Yesterday, I felt pretty good. But then also with those adjustments, I think it'll be a difference maker for me."
Choate threw 46 pitches on Monday -- 26 in the bullpen and 20 against left-handed Minor Leaguers. A misdirected slider led to one base hit, but Choate otherwise retired the other batters he faced on ground-ball outs.
Signed to a three-year, $7 million contract this offseason, Choate gives the Cardinals a lefty-on-lefty specialist that the club lacked in 2012. The Cardinals have not expressed much recent concern about Choate's recent Grapefruit League results, noting that the veteran has been through the spring routine enough to know how to get himself ready for the regular season.
"I don't feel like I have to prove my contract because I feel I've earned that, but you always want to show your new teammates and your new bosses that you can do the job," Choate said. "But they wouldn't have signed me here if they didn't think I could get it done. I just need to relax and be myself."
Choate said he expects to get an opportunity to pitch with his reworked mechanics in Wednesday's game against the Nationals.
• Shelby Miller, who was officially named the team's fifth starter on Monday, will pitch in a Triple-A game on Saturday before joining the club in Phoenix for the season opener Monday against the D-backs. The Cardinals plan to decide after that outing whether to have Miller pitch the fifth game of the season or to skip his spot in the rotation the first time it comes up.
"To me, I think it's going to depend, one, on how everybody's outings go the first time through and also how things go that last start here in Triple-A," manager Mike Matheny said of the decision. "It's all about how well it goes and how he feels and how the rest of the guys feel as well. I just don't want to say one way or the other right now."
• Though infielder Greg Garcia is still in Major League camp, the Cardinals have opted to give an Opening Day roster spot to Ryan Jackson during David Freese's stint on the disabled list. Jackson, who was already on the team's 40-man roster, will provide depth at second, short and third. Garcia is not on the 40-man roster.
"When we sent him out originally, Mike and the staff gave him some instruction that he really took to heart and he's had a nice camp down there," general manager John Mozeliak said of Jackson. "We really feel confident about bringing him back."
• Lefty reliever Sam Freeman was optioned to Triple-A Memphis on Tuesday, two days after he returned to the mound following a left shoulder impingement injury. As a result of that setback, Freeman made only two appearances in Grapefruit League games.
• The Cardinals are inviting fans to vote on whether the Cardinals will wear red or blue caps on the road this season. Votes can be cast at cardinals.com/redvsblue through Wednesday. On Thursday, there will be an additional Twitter vote. Last year, the Cardinals wore blue caps on the road and red caps for home games.
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.