Cards' young pitching staff could lead team in 2014

JUPITER, Fla. -- With Jaime Garcia shut down indefinitely and Jose Almarante stuck in the Dominican Republic due to visa issues, the Cardinals have added pitchers Kurt Heyer and Boone Whiting to their Major League Spring Training roster.

Heyer and Whiting were among a select group of 24 Minor League players to report to Jupiter, Fla., on Friday for the organization's STEP (Spring Training Early Program) initiative. The two will still attend the off-the-field sessions scheduled for the STEP participants, but their workouts will be done alongside those in big league camp.

This will also open up opportunities for Heyer and Whiting to make appearances in Grapefruit League games next month.

"We needed to cover some innings," general manager John Mozeliak said, "so we thought we would give them this opportunity."

Whiting finished 2013 in the Triple-A rotation, where he went 5-5 with a 4.09 ERA in 21 starts. He earned the promotion to Memphis after allowing 10 earned runs in 30 2/3 Double-A innings. Though the 24-year-old right-hander is not in camp to compete for a Major League roster spot, he is part of the starting pitching depth the Cardinals have at the upper Minor League levels.

In his first full professional season, Heyer, 23, split 2013 between the Cardinals' Class A clubs in Peoria (Ill.) and Palm Beach (Fla.). Heyer logged 124 innings in 23 combined appearances (22 starts), struck out 96, walked 34 and posted a 3.41 ERA.

With the additions of Heyer and Whiting, the Cardinals now have 60 players participating in Major League camp. That count includes Almarante and Garcia.

Pitchers put in extra work at the plate

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JUPITER, Fla. -- In an effort to try and squeeze more production from the No. 9 spot in the batting order, the Cardinals are having their pitchers work on their hitting earlier this spring than in previous camps run by manager Mike Matheny.

St. Louis ranked 11th among the 15 National League teams with a .126 pitchers' batting average in 2013. Not since 1986 had the Cardinals' pitching staff posted a lower collective average.

"We're going to be a better offensive hitting group of pitchers this year," Matheny said. "These other guys, they do so much talking about how athletic they are that I think they weren't very content with what they were able to do last year. It's a little edge if we can get our guys to do some things to help them maximize their opportunities."

The league average for pitchers average last season was .135; the Cardinals had three pitchers -- Adam Wainwright (.211), Jake Westbrook (.176) and Joe Kelly (.152) -- hit better than that NL mean. Wainwright's batting average ranked 10th in the NL among all pitchers with at least 25 plate appearances.

It isn't just overall average that Matheny hopes to see improved. He is also seeking a drop in strikeouts. The Cardinals' pitchers struck out 139 times in 2013, one fewer than the league-most total posted by both Pittsburgh and New York.

Lance Lynn (.074) and Shelby Miller (.075) had particular trouble handling the bat last season. The two combined to strike out 59 times in 107 at-bats. Both are expected to be back in the rotation this year.

"There are some things out there telling us that part of it is an approach deal," Matheny said. "Every time they get on base, we're rolling that order over and bringing up guys who have the potential to do some damage."

The athleticism that the Cardinals hope will translate into improved results at the plate also should help the club improve defensively, Matheny said. The organization has worked to improve the attention to detail in spring pitchers fielding practice for this purpose.

Worth noting

• According to pitching coach Derek Lilliquist, rehabbing reliever Jason Motte is expected to throw a bullpen session within the next week. Motte has taken the mound for controlled throwing sessions, but he has not yet thrown to a crouching catcher.

• The Marlins announced that they will start reigning National League Rookie of the Year Jose Fernandez against the Cardinals in both teams' Grapefruit League opener on Friday. The Cardinals had already announced plans to have Carlos Martinez make the start for St. Louis.

• The Cardinals' workouts on Saturday were abbreviated so that players and staff could attend an autograph function with season-ticket holders. As a result, most players were off the field by 11:30 a.m. ET.

• Dennis Martinez, a former 245-game winner in the Majors, has stopped by Cardinals camp several times since Spring Training workouts began. He's not a stranger here, as Martinez spent six seasons as a coach in the Cardinals' Minor League system. He left to become the Astros' bullpen coach in 2013, but he was let go after the season.