Thompson a real spring trooper

Thompson a real spring trooper

JUPITER, Fla. -- Brad Thompson arrived at Roger Dean Stadium on Tuesday morning expecting to pitch sometime around 1 p.m. CT. He sat down in the clubhouse, enjoyed some breakfast and learned that instead, he'd be taking the ball about three hours earlier than expected.

Thompson, Russ Springer and Mike Parisi were the pitchers used in an intrasquad game that the Cardinals staged on Tuesday morning before their main game against the Orioles.

It caught Thompson off guard, but really, it was nothing out of the ordinary for a pitcher who has never started an "A" game in Spring Training. It's the second year in a row that Thompson has competed for a rotation spot, and the second year in a row that he's done so without getting a start.

"I can't let it bug me," Thompson said. "It's just one of those things where guys need to get their starts. I still feel like I'm in the competition. Eyes are watching every time. I'm out there and [manager] Tony [La Russa] and [pitching coach Dave Duncan] are out there, so it's the same as pitching in a game."

No runs were scored in the four-inning simulated competition, as all three hurlers looked pretty sharp. Springer learned early in spring that he would be on what he called a "save the bullets" program, so it was no big deal for him to pitch in the morning.

For the other two, it was framed as an opportunity. Thompson lives and dies with his sinker, but he could refine his breaking ball and changeup. Parisi features a quality sinker and a dynamic curveball but an underdeveloped changeup.

Pitching in the squad game allowed them to put in extra time on those progressing pitches.

"It has nothing to do with their position as far as competing for a job," Duncan said.

Still, it's strange for a pitcher to be competing for a starting spot without actually getting a start. Duncan emphasizes that the Cardinals know Thompson well enough that they don't need to see how he handles actually starting a game. Todd Wellemeyer, one of his competitors for a job, has done less starting in recent years and even less with St. Louis.

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La Russa, in fact, was surprised to learn that Thompson had never started a Grapefruit League game.

"That sure doesn't seem right to me," La Russa said.

Thompson and Parisi each threw 60 pitches, though Thompson spread his over three innings while Parisi worked four simulated frames.

It was a bit of a challenge for Thompson to reach something close to game speed, pitching at 10:15 a.m. against his own teammates. But after a slow start, he picked it up.

"It's a little bit harder," Thompson said. "Dunc kind of called me over after my first inning, and he asked me how my intensity was at the beginning of the inning as opposed to the end. I walked the first batter, then a hit, then I started getting a little fired up. When you don't have the same intensity, it's hard to execute the same pitches. But that kind of got me pretty quick."

Matthew Leach is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.