JUPITER, Fla. -- With a pair of roster moves on Sunday, the Cardinals brought additional clarity to a bullpen competition nearing its end.
The Cardinals outrighted starter Angel Castro, thereby creating an opening on the 40-man roster that is expected to be filled by right-handed reliever Pat Neshek, a non-roster invitee in camp. The team also optioned left-hander Sam Freeman to Triple-A.
Castro, whom the Cardinals signed to a one-year deal in December, was knocked around for seven earned runs on 13 hits in 2 2/3 Grapefruit League innings and hadn't had much better success since moving over to Minor League camp. As for Neshek, he distinguished himself early as a favorite to win a bullpen job.
Neshek is projected to join a bullpen that will also include Trevor Rosenthal, Carlos Martinez, Kevin Siegrist, Randy Choate and Seth Maness. With Freeman now out of the mix, that seventh spot will go to one of three remaining pitchers in camp -- Keith Butler, Jorge Rondon or Scott McGregor.
There is that extra vacancy because Jason Motte needs to begin the season on the disabled list.
So how do the three remaining candidates stack up? Manager Mike Matheny offered the following assessment after announcing Freeman's departure from the big league clubhouse:
"I think with Rondon, you're looking at stuff and a guy who has improved. We gave him a task of pounding the strike zone and simplifying his approaching. It's something that he has done well, and he's seen some results.
"We made some challenges to Butler as well to use his fastball in the zone and being a little more consistent and fooling with his slot a little bit. I think we saw some good results yesterday, the time before a little rough, but overall he's a guy we know can come in and do a couple things. He can throw more than one inning; we've seen that. We've seen him be able to get out some lefties.
"And McGregor, we're still watching. He's a guy who wasn't even in camp with us. But he made a positive impression and depending on what the need of the club is, there could be a use for a guy like him."
As for Freeman, who allowed two runs on six hits and four walks in 6 1/3 spring innings, the decision to send him out of big league camp now was made so that he could get consistent work over the next week. He pitched a scoreless inning in a Triple-A game on Sunday.
Cards trim roster to 35 with five cuts
JUPITER, Fla. -- With four Grapefruit League games remaining, the Cardinals pared their spring roster down to 35 players by cutting five on Sunday.
Infielder Greg Garcia, outfielder Joey Butler and lefty reliever Sam Freeman were optioned to Triple-A. Shortstop Aledmys Diaz, who signed with the club on March 9, was optioned to Double-A, where he will begin the season. And Luis Mateo, a non-roster invitee to Spring Training, was reassigned to Minor League camp.
Garcia can play three infield positions, but the organization is most likely to use him at second base in Triple-A since Pete Kozma is projected to be Memphis' starting shortstop. Mateo, too, will offer defensive versatility in the Memphis infield.
Butler will begin the season in Memphis, but with an undefined role. The Cardinals are expected to feature a Triple-A outfield of prospects -- Oscar Taveras, Stephen Piscotty and Randal Grichuk -- which would make Butler a fourth outfielder. He went 4-for-19 this spring.
Diaz, after signing on March 9 and going to Mexico to obtain a work visa, was able to play in two Grapefruit League games since returning. He went 3-for-5, but the Cardinals felt it necessary to get him to Minor League camp soon so that he can play regularly.
"I know the value we got was to watch him -- how he handles his batting practice, how he handles his work, how he handles instruction with [infield coach Jose Oquendo]," Matheny said. "All the way across was very impressive. You see a guy walk into the box not afraid in a big league spring game. He was very consistent with his approach at the plate, as well as what he was doing in the field. So it was a nice look for us."
Garcia throws first 'pen session since February
JUPITER, Fla. -- Shortly after a diagnosis in late February identified bursitis as the reason behind his left shoulder discomfort, Jaime Garcia set a goal of returning to the mound before the Cardinals finished Spring Training.
On Sunday, he successfully met it.
Garcia threw about 25 fastballs off the mound at the Cardinals' spring complex in what was his first bullpen session since Feb. 18. In between then and now, the left-hander received a cortisone shot and assurances that there is no structural damage in his shoulder.
Now that Garcia is back on the mound, he'll follow a throwing program similar to the one that he had stalled last month. There will be several more bullpen sessions and then an opportunity to face hitters during extended Spring Training. Eventually, Garcia would go out on a Minor League rehab assignment before being ready to return to St. Louis.
"I'm going to be ready to go whenever that time is," Garcia said. "I'm very, very confident I'm going to be good to go. When is that going to be? I haven't really talked to the trainers. But I'm hoping as soon as possible."
Garcia has said he has already faced the possibility of pitching with discomfort in his shoulder for the rest of his career. In order to keep it manageable, he has made some changes and additions to his workout regimen.
"It's been a little tough for me, unfortunately, since last year when Spring Training started," Garcia said. "But I'm in a good place right now. I'm coming in ready to go every day, trying to do my work, have a good mentality about this whole thing, stay positive. It was a good first bullpen."
• Infielder Malik Collymore, the Cardinals' 10th-round pick in the 2013 First-Year Player Draft, exited a Minor League intrasquad game on Saturday after colliding with shortstop Robelys Reyes, as both converged on a ball behind second base. Director of Player Development Gary LaRocque said that X-rays on Collymore's left shin came back negative and that he is listed as day to day.
• The Cardinals have not yet announced who will play in Memphis during Friday's exhibition game against the organization's Triple-A affiliate. However, Matheny said that a Major League pitcher is expected to start the game for the Cardinals.
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.