Notes: Mather making a mark
Prospect trying to crack crowded Cardinals outfield
VERO BEACH, Fla. -- Barely over a week ago, Cardinals manager Tony La Russa fielded a question about some of his team's outfield prospects. He said several of them would have a hard fight to get any significant playing time this spring.
Cody Haerther, Nick Stavinoha and Joe Mather all would face an uphill battle, he said, since the club needed to find innings and at-bats for the seven leading outfield candidates. And in two cases, that has been true. Stavinoha already has been sent down. Haerther has six at-bats through 10 games.
Mather, however, has forced his way into the playing-time picture in a way the other two have not. It helps that he was drafted as an infielder and played a good bit of first base last year. It also helps that he's been hitting the cover off the ball.
The big, righty-swinging Mather is 7-for-19 this spring with four extra-base hits and three walks. He's played plenty of outfield, he's played first base and on Friday, he even took some grounders at third.
"I've always prided myself on being able to play a couple positions," said Mather, who actually was drafted as a shortstop. "I've always known coming up that that was an asset. I guess we'll see in a couple of weeks how it relates to this team."
La Russa refuses to handicap anyone's chances at this point in the spring, but the fact is that it's tough to make the club if you're not playing. Mather is playing a lot, and there may be a spot for him in the wake of Scott Spiezio's release.
"What you're doing is giving guys opportunities," La Russa said. "What he's done so far is that he's played the game well. He's defended well. He's run the bases well. He's taken consistent at-bats.
"He's in a nice category of opportunity. And he's done a lot with it."
Step forward: Matt Clement faced hitters for the first time this spring on Friday. He threw 20 pitches to Jarrett Hoffpauir, Haerther and Brian Barton, using his entire repertoire -- two- and four-seam fastballs, changeups and sliders.
"I'll definitely give it an upgrade today on how it felt," Clement said. "I felt more command of my body and everything else. I'm not really worried about the results and command of the BP. There are so many factors the first time you're seeing hitters."
Clement will throw another live batting practice session on Monday.
Glimpse at the future: La Russa detests losing even a Spring Training game, so when he has a close lead late in a Grapefruit League contest, he prefers to lean on experienced relievers. On Friday, though, holding a 6-4 advantage, he called on two prospects to record the final six outs.
Chris Perez and Jason Motte finished it off in style, going six up, six down with a pair of strikeouts. Both right-handers hit the mid-90s mph with their fastballs, and both mixed in power sliders.
"That was a highlight of the day," La Russa said. "Two-run game and you get six outs from two young guys. They controlled their emotions and delivery and pitched well."
Perez closed at Double-A Springfield last year, with Motte often setting him up. This time around, they flipped, with Perez pitching the eighth and Motte the ninth.
Bits and pieces: La Russa said Dave Veres recently called to express interest in a chance with the Cardinals, but "right-handed relief is not somewhere that we have innings." ... With two hits, including a home run, and two walks on Friday, Albert Pujols is hitting .471 on the spring with a .609 on-base percentage and a 1.118 slugging percentage. ... Cliff Politte made his game debut on Friday, allowing a run on three hits with a strikeout and a home run allowed. He hit 91 mph on the radar gun.
Weather report: Saturday is shaping up to be a much cooler day. The forecast calls for a high around 71 degrees and temperatures dropping through the afternoon, with a few clouds and plenty of wind.
Coming up: It will be the second game of a home-and-home set on Saturday when the Dodgers make the trip down the coast for their first 2008 visit to Roger Dean Stadium. Braden Looper will toe the rubber and try to be the first Cards pitcher to last four innings this spring, while the team will be seeking its fourth straight win.
Matthew Leach is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.