CINCINNATI — The Cardinals’ confidence in rookie Jake Woodford and his ability to rebound to cover innings in the near future was clear Sunday when he remained on the active roster, but a thinned bullpen could prompt other moves in the coming week.
Woodford handled 2 1/3 innings Saturday and threw 47 pitches in an assignment that often can be prelude to a demotion because he has minor-league options and the team needs a fresh arm. Woodford was unavailable Sunday, yet the Cardinals did not want to go more than a week without him, especially after this weekend’s workload dumped on the bullpen.
They might not go a series without adding a ninth reliever.
“I couldn’t rule out that at some point,” manager Mike Shildt said. “We have the flexibility to so. Wouldn’t be surprised if we did it. Can’t read the tea leaves, but we get into a bulk of consistent games, it may be a possibility. We do know the bullpen is always important. It’s a big part of our team.”
The bullpen threw more innings (13) than the starters (12) in the opening series against the Reds. Tyler Webb appeared in all three games, and he warmed up twice Sunday.
That comes during a six-day stretch of games that concludes Thursday with the home opener. After an off day Friday, the Cardinals play on 11 of the next 12 days.
Like almost every team, the Cardinals have a conservative plan in place for their starters, and they expected to cover innings early and manage innings throughout the season for a group that did not have a standard workload in 2020.
Woodford’s addition to the roster as a long reliever was part of that insurance. On the taxi squad, the Cardinals have relievers Seth Elledge and Kodi Whitley with the team, and prospect Johan Oviedo has continued to build arm strength to be ready when the Cardinals need him to tag in as a starter or long reliever.
The uptick to nine relievers and one fewer position player would be done to steady a bullpen that could unravel if this weekend becomes the norm.
“It is important for our guys to log innings so we can keep our bullpen sharp,” Shildt said, “and keep them as fresh as possible.”
The Cardinals did not receive any official word Sunday morning on the ramifications of Saturday’s skirmish with Cincinnati that emptied the dugouts and bullpens and violated a fistful of MLB health and safety protocols. Informally, they expected to receive fines, not suspensions.
Shildt said he did not expect any of his players to miss a game.
Cincinnati’s Nicholas Castellanos, who instigated the brouhaha by taunting over rookie Woodford, was ejected from the game. The Reds could face fines as well.
Up for review by Major League Baseball is the second flashpoint — some pushing and shoving that happened in the outfield as players returned to their positions or the bullpens. Cardinals reliever Jordan Hicks became furious and had to be held back by his manager and teammates. He declined to offer specifics of what he heard, only describing it in two words.
“Nothing derogatory,” he said. “I saw something unfolding and I wanted to be there for my guys because. Not too much I want to talk about.”
Seeking right fit
In the spillover competition from spring training, Cardinals rookie Justin Williams had first dibs on claiming playing time in right field because of the pitching rotation Cincinnati had waiting for the Cardinals. Three righthanded starters in the three-game series meant Williams had the matchup edge over fellow outfielder Austin Dean.
Williams is likely to yield the spot to Dean on Monday when Miami starts a lefty, and he will do so having gone 0 for nine with five strikeouts in his first turn as a starter.
“I liked his early at-bats, aggressive, got some good swings off,” Shildt said. “I think he’s getting his opportunity, but I like the aggressiveness in the zone. This guy has got some easy power. Just watching him take BP the other day and just enjoying the fact that the ball carries off his bat. Really just want to continue to allow him to be aggressive in the zone and play that way. It’s about getting more comfortable with the bat in his hand.”
Williams earned a spot on the roster with his authoritative hits in spring, and Dean claimed the spot with solid all-around production. The duo has a stretch of games to tighten that hold on a platoon or being an everyday player, with an alternative such as John Nogowski on the bench and Lane Thomas on the taxi squad.
With the help of a sunny, mild Easter Sunday, the Reds drew well for their three-game, season-opening series against the Cardinals and their first chance to have fans in the ballpark since 2019. Following Ohio’s pandemic protocols, the Reds had limited capacity and still brought 11,629 to Sunday’s game. The previous two games had crowds of 12,264 for the opening and 12,213 for Saturday’s game.
• The Cardinals are 31-24 on Easter, and notably they have faced Cincinnati 13 times on Easter Sunday. The loss this time dropped them to 8-5.
• The Cardinals’ game Monday in Miami will broadcast on Bally Sports Midwest Plus because of an overlap with that night’s Blues game. First pitch is set for 5:30 p.m. (St. Louis time).
• Paul DeJong’s two-homer game Saturday was the first by a shortstop in the cleanup spot for the Cardinals since 1900.
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