JUPITER, Fla. -- Having determined that Tyler Lyons will be more valuable right now as a potential spot starter than as a reliever in the big league bullpen, the Cardinals optioned the left-hander to Triple-A Memphis on Wednesday. With the move, the Cards now have 40 players remaining in Major League Spring Training.
Though Lyons was initially named as one of the pitchers competing for a rotation spot, it became clear early in Grapefruit League play that the Cardinals were auditioning him for a bullpen role. He would have offered the club length out of the 'pen, but Lyons didn't exactly stand out this spring.
Lyons gave up 13 earned runs in eight innings and struggled with his command. By sending him to Minor League camp now, there is still plenty of time for him to get stretched out so he is ready to open the season in Memphis' rotation. Lyons did not pitch more than two innings in any of his six spring appearances.
"He's got an above-average slider and curveball. Both of those make me believe that he could be effective out of the 'pen," manager Mike Matheny said. "I think all the talk has been -- and rightfully so -- that you have the ability to have a long guy, too, down there is always nice. But I think long term, with the mix of pitches that he has -- the sinker, the good changeup, the two plus breaking balls -- he profiles as a starter and needs to continue to get stretched out as so."
The Cards need to have Major League-ready starting depth in Memphis, too, because of their plans to move one of their starters into a bullpen role to start the season. Whichever of the six remaining starters in camp does not land in the rotation is poised to "play a big role in our bullpen," Matheny said. That's likely to be either Joe Kelly or Carlos Martinez.
Lyons made 12 appearances (eight starts) for the Cardinals last season and posted a 4.75 ERA.
"He's going to be in that mix, because he's going to be down there," Matheny said, when asked if Lyons would be positioned as the first starter called up should there be a need. "He's somebody that we know. But it's going to be whoever is throwing the ball best. That's all there is to it."
Ellis improving, nearing return to lineup
JUPITER, Fla. -- Mark Ellis, sidelined since last Thursday with left knee tendinitis, is aiming for a weekend return to Grapefruit League play, manager Mike Matheny said on Wednesday.
Ellis described himself as "definitely on the up and up" and has been encouraged by the improvement felt over the last few days. A recent MRI showed no structural concerns.
"You never want to miss time, but it seems to be under control," Ellis said. "It was a little sore."
"I think he said a couple times that he'd be out there if we were in the season, but this is something to get ahead of and that he would follow along with what the trainers are trying to do," Matheny added. "They have done enough tests to know that he is in good shape structurally. It's just something that's achy right now."
Ellis has played in eight of the Cardinals' 17 spring games and would have only a week's worth of available games before the regular season if he returns this weekend. Ellis, 36, has six hits in 20 at-bats, the fewest at-bats among any position player expected to be on the Cards' Opening Day roster.
Cardinals announce changes to medical staff
JUPITER, Fla. -- A little more than a year after the Cardinals entered into a long-term partnership with St. Louis-based Mercy as their official medical provider, the organization announced that it is now turning all of its medical services over to Mercy Sports Medicine physicians.
As a result, the Cardinals have cut ties with Dr. George Paletta, who served as the team's head physician for 15 years, and Dr. Lyndon Gross, who was the Cards' orthopedic doctor for the past seven seasons.
"While we move to this new model, we want to express our sincere gratitude to Dr. Paletta and Dr. Gross for the outstanding care they have provided our players over the years," general manager John Mozeliak said in a release.
The Mercy staff working with the Cardinals now includes orthopedic surgeon Michael J. Milne, lead internist Jason Hand and sports medicine physician Brian Mahaffey. The Cards announced that Mercy will also provide on-site care for their Double-A Springfield team.
Martinez keeps pace with Kelly in rotation battle
JUPITER, Fla. -- The Cardinals called for patience early in camp, noting that the rotation battle would become clearer the deeper the team played into March. That clarity, however, doesn't look to come from the pitchers themselves, though, who keep matching each other with strong starts.
After Joe Kelly pitched a team-best 5 1/3 innings in his start over the weekend, Carlos Martinez matched him with a start of that length on Wednesday. Within the next 10 days, one of the two will be put into the Cardinals' rotation; the other will open the season in the bullpen.
In the Cardinals' 3-1 win over the Twins on Wednesday, it was Martinez's opportunity to impress.
"I think he thrives on the competition and not so much on the things on the periphery," manager Mike Matheny said. "He's a competitor, and any time someone jumps in the box, he has an opportunity to personally match up. He's done well in those matchups."
Martinez had his spring scoreless-innings streak snapped at 14 but otherwise made few mistakes in his 81-pitch effort. The first pitcher to make a fourth start, he also became the first to surpass the 80-pitch threshold. With the opportunity to build up as a starter this spring, Martinez has been able to showcase his full repertoire of pitches to the Cardinals' coaching staff.
Pitching out of the bullpen for St. Louis last year, he could get by with a two-pitch mix. And he did, as fangraphs.com recorded that 94 percent of the pitches Martinez threw last year were fastballs and sliders. Now, he's also featuring an improved curveball and changeup. The curveball, Matheny suggested on Wednesday, might even end up being a bigger weapon than the slider.
Those are necessary additions for Martinez should he be asked to fill a starting role.
"It's kind of the well-rounded pitcher he is developing into," Matheny said. "He's making great strides forward. He's starting to learn his stuff, but he's also trusting a pretty good catcher behind the plate [in Yadier Molina] who understands which ones he needs to focus on and what pitches are most likely going to give him the chance to get out of a jam."
The Cardinals have not announced their rotation plans for next week, meaning that it has not yet been determined whether Martinez will make another start. He's given the Cardinals plenty to consider already, however, with his 1.76 ERA, nine strikeouts and three walks in 15 1/3 Grapefruit League innings.
"I go out there every day just trying to do my work," Martinez said, with front-office member Tony Ferreira translating. "I'm just trying to make the team and am going out there to do whatever I can. Every opportunity I have, I'm trying to make the best of it."
• Aledmys Diaz returned to Mexico to secure the work visa he needs in order to play in Grapefruit League games this spring. As of Wednesday morning, he still had not returned to the Cardinals' complex. Matheny did not have an update on Diaz's travel plans, but when the 23-year-old shortstop gets back, he is expected to play in big league Spring Training games.
• Matheny indicated that beginning with Carlos Martinez on Wednesday, the Cardinals will let all six of their starting pitchers make at least one more start this time through the rotation. The club has still not determined its fifth starter. Lance Lynn is scheduled to pitch Thursday, followed by Adam Wainwright on Friday. Wainwright is pitching every fifth day so that he can line up to start Opening Day. The rotation order has not been set beyond that point.
• Tickets for the rooftop seating in Ballpark Village will go on sale at 10 a.m. CT on Thursday at cardinals.com. The seating area, which will accommodate over 330 fans, will be known as the AT&T Rooftop. The tickets will be all-inclusive and include access to a dining area with a buffet, an indoor bar, the Cardinals' Hall of Fame and Museum, and Busch Stadium.
• Beginning on Thursday, the Cardinals will no longer use a designated hitter, with the exception being Saturday's game at Houston. In return for using the DH in an American League park, the Cardinals will ask the Astros to have their pitcher bat when they visit Roger Dean Stadium on Sunday.
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, By Gosh, It's Langosch, and follow her on Twitter @LangoschMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.