WSH@STL: Mike Matheny on Aledmys Diaz's debut

JUPITER, Fla. -- With Spring Training winding down and at-bats at a premium, the Cardinals' big league coaching staff likely won't get much more of a look at recent Cuban signee Aledmys Diaz. The glimpse they got Friday, though, offered an appealing first impression.

After returning from Mexico with a work visa, Diaz was cleared to begin playing in Grapefruit League games. The Cardinals initiated him on Friday, starting Diaz at short and having him bat eighth in the lineup. In his first at-bat, Diaz lined a two-strike pitch to left for a single. His next time up, he singled up the middle. Both hits came off former 21-game winner Gio Gonzalez.

Those would be the only two at-bats Diaz logged while playing five innings.

"The hardest [hit] is the first one, so I'm happy that it's over with," Diaz said, with front-office employee Luis Morales translating. "More than getting two hits is getting used to playing every day, seeing pitches, being around the clubhouse and getting the chance to play every day."

Diaz won't be able to play every day here in Major League camp, which is why the Cardinals will soon send him out to play regularly in Minor League contests. Whether he makes another Grapefruit League appearance before that point, manager Mike Matheny said, is still to be determined.

While the Cardinals like the experience Diaz can get from working alongside established Major League hitters, the priority right now is getting Diaz on the field as much as possible. He went about 18 months without playing in games while defecting from Cuba and serving a Major League Baseball-issued suspension until signing a four-year contract with the Cardinals on March 9.

"I understand that I'm not in the perfect shape to play every day," Diaz said. "But that's part of why I'm here working out, going to the field and giving it 100 percent to be at that ultimate condition."

Diaz is projected to begin the season with Double-A Springfield, which opens its season several days after the big league team. That will allow additional time for Diaz to condition himself for game play while in Florida. Before that process starts in full, though, the Cardinals wanted to get at least one look.

"We need to get him exposed to this, and we're running out of time before he needs to go back there and get work," Matheny said. "We said it -- as soon as we got a chance to look at him, we wanted to see him. Just see some of the things that come natural for him and see where the gaps are. We know where there are going to be gaps; we just need to see where they are so we can help him fast forward through some of the stumbles he might have."

Wainwright in peak form as spring nears end

Wainwright breaks down great start

JUPITER, Fla. -- In starting Yadier Molina behind the plate for a third straight day, manager Mike Matheny had the intention of pulling his veteran catcher midway through Friday's game. He never did sub in another backstop.

"It didn't go quite as planned," Matheny noted afterward. "It went a little better."

Matheny didn't dare try to pry Molina from a game in which he and Adam Wainwright were clearly in sync. And Wainwright, in what was his second-to-last spring start, accomplished a rarity in Grapefruit League play by finishing eight innings.

Wainwright didn't even reach his preset pitch count of 90 in the effort, but Matheny needed to get Trevor Rosenthal some work, so he opted to remove Wainwright after 81 pitches. Giving a clinic on efficiency, Wainwright rolled through his final four innings on just 35 pitches. He threw seven in the eighth.

"I put a very high value on that," said Wainwright, who led the Majors in innings pitched last season. "That's how I want to pitch. I want to be a low-pitch-count, high-inning guy. Those innings like today, I feel less taxed than after my last start, when I threw close to 80 pitches. That was a better start for me today as far as my recovery will be better, my innings were easier and quicker. Everything is better when you do that."

Wainwright has one more spring start remaining, though there is seemingly little left to accomplish. He was effective with every one of his pitches on Friday -- including his curveball, which was a bit inconsistent earlier in the month. Just as expected, Wainwright has found the feel of that pitch over his last two outings.

"I was very close to being right," he said. "And today, everything fell into place."

With Wainwright stretched out, Matheny said the Cardinals might rein in the right-hander's pitch count next week in his final tuneup. From there, Wainwright will then move on to Cincinnati to face the Reds in the March 31 regular-season opener.

As Matheny approached Wainwright in the dugout after a scoreless eighth, Wainwright said he jokingly indicated he was ready to pitch the ninth. He knew, of course, that wouldn't happen. Matheny told him that "it was fun to watch," and in his postgame session with media afterward, added that it also "would have been fun to catch."

"He had everything working," Matheny said. "Those are the kind of days that I'm sure he has to love being out there. And I know Yadi had a fun time taking that for a ride."

Motte throws 25 pitches in simulated game

Motte on rehab progress, latest bullpen session

JUPITER, Fla. -- After throwing about 25 pitches in a simulated game at the Cardinals' spring complex Friday, Jason Motte remains on track to throw in a Spring Training game before camp breaks next week. That appearance, Motte confirmed, is planned for the back fields, where he can throw in a Minor League game and therefore have his disabled list stint backdated up to 10 days.

If all remains on schedule, Motte will make his spring debut on Thursday. Between now and then, he has one more simulated game planned. That will come on Monday, and it will be his fourth such session.

Friday's simulated game differed from the previous two in that there was no batting cage this time. A sizable crowd of Cardinals fans also attended and gave Motte a hearty applause after he faced Greg Garcia, Xavier Scruggs and Luis Mateo.

"It felt more realistic," Motte said afterward. "There's not a cage around, so it's definitely a little different. It wasn't 45,000 at Busch, but there was a little bit of atmosphere.

"The intensity, I feel like, was up more than last time. I felt pretty good with my cutter today. I was throwing it more game-like and got some good swings and misses on it, got some good takes on it. That was good. I can move my arm, so we're still doing good."

Motte remains on -- or even a bit ahead -- of schedule in his recovery from Tommy John surgery. The Cardinals have not set a projected date for his return to the 25-man roster, but things are tracking at a pace now that would have Motte ready to pitch in St. Louis by the end of April.

The right-hander has shown better command of his pitches each subsequent time he has faced hitters. Some of that, Motte said, is because he's finally trusting the stability of his surgically repaired elbow.

"It's strong, and it's right," said Motte. "The hardest part of an injury is with your mind, that you're OK and can do this and your arm is not going to go with it. I think after my first BP I was hesitant. My second one was, 'OK, I'm going to do it.' You have to, because you're facing hitters."

Worth noting

• Matheny said that the organization still expects Mark Ellis to play this weekend, possibly Saturday if Ellis passes all his medical checkpoints on Friday. Ellis, who has been sidelined with left knee inflammation since March 13, participated fully in the Cardinals' morning workouts.

• Prior to Friday's game, Matheny spent time with St. Louis Rams defensive coordinator Gregg Williams and Steve Spagnuolo, former head coach for the Rams.

• Molina started for the third consecutive day on Friday, the longest such stretch he's played this spring. He was the latest batter to hit second, too, as Matheny continues to shuffle players in and out of that spot in the batting order.