STL@HOU: Wacha strikes out five over 3 2/3 scoreless

KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- What began mostly as experimentation in 2013 just might turn out to be the latest weapon in Michael Wacha's growing arsenal of pitches.

As command of Wacha's fastball, changeup and curveball come along this spring, so, too, is a cutter, a pitch that Wacha threw about a half dozen times in his 73-pitch start on Friday. Three weeks ago, Wacha was trying to find an ideal grip on the pitch. Now, he's getting outs off it.

"I fully believe in it," Wacha said after throwing 3 2/3 shutout innings against the Astros. "It's been working pretty well for me the last few outings."

Wacha isn't necessarily looking for the pitch to induce swings-and-misses. But it has produced weak contact and has given batters an extra pitch to consider when they step in against him.

Wacha first started tinkering with grips late last season, and he threw the cutter sporadically in his starts -- though almost always in situations where he couldn't be hurt by it. Now, he is using it to challenge hitters.

"The confidence level has definitely increased from throwing it in bullpens, throwing it warming up and then throwing it in these games for sure," Wacha said. "I can catch them off guard with a different pitch."

Matheny challenges Taveras to keep pushing

Mayo answers a fan's question about Oscar Taveras

KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- Upon notifying Oscar Taveras on Thursday that the Cardinals were sending him out to Minor League camp, manager Mike Matheny, speaking in his best Spanish, encouraged Taveras to turn the disappointment of an injury-riddled spring into "an urgency to get better like you're watching all these other guys do."

Matheny's conversation, as he relayed it, was a call for Taveras to avoid complacency and do the work necessary to get healthy and continue his development. How Taveras reacts to this latest kick of adversity, Matheny said, will determine how quickly the organization's top prospect can position himself for the Major League callup he hoped would come this spring.

"He can't help but hear what's always being said, too, and everything was always put out there like he's already arrived," Matheny said. "It's not fair to a young player. And so my message was that, 'What has happened this spring is you couldn't get to the point, physically, where you wanted to be. But once that's taken care of itself, which it eventually will, make sure you don't miss the opportunity to really push. You could either ride on what you've done, but don't buy into the stuff that you're hearing, because there are other guys who are working hard to get better every day. Make sure you're doing the same thing.'"

The Cardinals have not publically questioned Taveras' work ethic this spring, though there was frustration from all parties about his inability to participate in spring games. The organization expected the 21-year-old outfielder to be fully recovered from August ankle surgery when he reported to camp, but it instead spent weeks trying to push Taveras to trust his surgically-repaired right ankle.

Once Taveras finally did, he took six at-bats before a hamstring issue sidelined him. Taveras hasn't played since. What was supposed to be his opportunity to make a case for an Opening Day roster spot was instead weeks spent compromised by injury.

"I think it could be looked at, in his eyes at least, as a step back because he came in here with a shot of making this club if things did go right," Matheny said. "Like we've already said, a step back isn't necessarily a bad thing if it's handled the right way. The initial step back happened when he got hurt last year. We were all hoping -- and he was hoping -- that he would be able to have that behind him by the time he got to Spring Training and just wasn't able -- not from lack of effort from everybody's part -- it just didn't happen.

"Now we just need to make sure that he doesn't get sidetracked or discouraged to the point of not being focused when he gets back there. He's got some gaps. We made it clear what he needs to work on. Most of it is just that consistency and that consistent approach to the mental side of the game and preparation, because physically, I think we all know he's a talented player."

Taveras will open the season as a corner outfielder in Triple-A.

Motte faces hitters for first time since surgery

Motte on rehab progress, latest bullpen session

KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- While the Cardinals traveled to Kissimmee, Fla., on Friday morning to face the Astros, rehabbing reliever Jason Motte faced hitters for the first time since March 23, 2013.

It was after that outing against the Mets that Motte felt an unusual sensation in his right elbow. He stopped his throwing program and eventually had to undergo season-ending Tommy John surgery. Motte has been working his way back to the mound since, and after a month of throwing bullpen sessions, he was able to test his command against hitters.

What Motte learned was there was still a ways to go before his command comes all the way back.

"It was definitely more effort, more adrenaline than throwing a bullpen," Motte told the Belleville (Ill.) News-Democrat, which had a reporter back in Jupiter for the session. "It felt good, went well. I feel good now. It's not one of those [things] where I walked off the mound and I was like, 'This feels miserable.'"

Motte faced two Minor League hitters in live batting practice while throwing to catcher Tony Cruz. The Cardinals have not yet said whether they expect Motte to pitch in a spring game before the end of camp. He will begin the season on the disabled list.

"It was [important] to come out of it feeling good," Motte told the newspaper. "Also to just accomplish getting out there and cranking it up to that next level of actually facing hitters and knowing these guys are swinging and it's not like a bullpen. I'll throw a couple more live BPs, and each time progress the intensity up. But today went well. We did what we needed to do and got what we needed to get out of it."

Worth noting

• In order to keep Adam Wainwright pitching every fifth day -- a necessary schedule to have him lined up for the Opening Day start -- the Cardinals will push Shelby Miller's next outing to Monday. Joe Kelly will start Saturday's game in Orlando.

Jaime Garcia played catch at a distance of 60 feet on Friday, marking the first time he has thrown since Feb. 18. Garcia had to stop his throwing program after that bullpen session due to bursitis in his left shoulder.

• The Cardinals' pitching staff had its scoreless-innings streak snapped at 16 with Houston's four-run seventh on Friday.

• On Friday, the Cardinals announced the addition of six themed events -- including Mo Tie Monday, Chuck Berry Night and Superhero Night -- at Busch Stadium in 2014. To receive the promotional item associated with these events, a special theme ticket is required. For more information on each theme night and/or to purchase tickets, visit cardinals.com/theme.

• The Cardinals re-assigned right-hander Sam Gaviglio to Minor League camp following Friday's win over the Astros. Gaviglio, 23, allowed two runs on seven hits in 5 1/3 innings this spring. He struck out four and walked two. With the move, the Cardinals now have 45 players remaining in Major League camp.

• Non-roster reliever Pat Neshek was scheduled to appear in Friday's game, but he ended up being absent due to a personal matter. The Cardinals expect him to return to camp within the next few days.