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Cardinals looking to regain perch atop NL Central

Club set to officially open up Spring Training camp at Jupiter on Tuesday

Cardinals looking to regain perch atop NL Central

JUPITER, Fla. -- Regardless of what the thermometers read back in St. Louis, there is evidence that the seasons are changing.

The Cardinals' quest for a third straight postseason berth will begin on the practice fields of the organization's Jupiter, Fla., complex Tuesday when the club officially opens camp. That first workout -- which will involve all the pitchers and catchers who have been invited to Major League camp -- will mark the Cardinals' first official gathering since they were eliminated in the National League Championship Series last October.

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"As a player, the offseason goes real fast because your body is just getting recuperated, and then you have to throw it into the gym again," manager Mike Matheny said. "But physically, I don't have that issue, so I was ready to go a long time ago."

The Cardinals return with most of that 2012 team intact and are looking to make a move back to the top of the division. The Cardinals have not captured the NL Central crown since 2009.

Before the club can begin making headway in that area, though, it must finalize its roster. That process will play out over the next seven weeks, leading up to the Cardinals' season opener in Arizona on April 1.

The Cardinals are one of 15 teams that have required their pitchers and catchers to report to Spring Training by the end of the day Monday. Most players had arrived in Jupiter in advance of the mandatory report date. Pitchers have already begun throwing bullpen sessions. Matt Carpenter has already started his crash-course work at second base.

There are 23 pitchers on the Cardinals' 40-man roster, though there will be one conspicuous absence when camp opens. Chris Carpenter, who recently had to stop throwing because of right arm numbness and discomfort, will not be reporting to Jupiter with the rest of his teammates.

Last Tuesday, general manager John Mozeliak announced that Carpenter is not expected to pitch in 2013. Carpenter, during a press conference Monday in St. Louis, said he did not expect to make a stop down in Florida during Spring Training.

The other 22 pitchers on the roster will be joined by another six non-roster invitees. Highlighting the latter group will be Carlos Martinez, Michael Wacha and Seth Maness. Eight catchers have been invited to Major League camp, including six non-roster players.

Martinez is the only one of the bunch in jeopardy of missing the first day of workouts. According to a club official, the 20-year-old right-hander was having some visa troubles getting out of the Dominican Republic.

These early workouts will feature bullpen sessions and fielding drills. All players will also have team physicals during the first days of camp.

Position players have already begun trickling in, and all are required to report to Jupiter by Thursday. Matheny will hold his first full-squad workout of the spring Friday. At that point, the Cardinals will have 57 players working toward earning the 25 Opening Day roster spots.

As for Matheny, he said he would make some tweaks to the schedule to improve the efficiency of Spring Training, which he ran for the first time last year. Bunting, for one, will be a greater point of emphasis.

"You always want to carve out the things that you believe maybe aren't a waste of time but maybe aren't useful," Matheny said. "We've done a lot of carving in every area. I've said it a lot … the little things in the game, the fundamentals, the things that seem insignificant are so important to set in stone early on. We'll be doing those and doing a lot of extra work on those as well."

The Cardinals have much to sort out in the weeks leading up to the start of the season. With Carpenter sidelined indefinitely -- and possibly permanently -- the Cardinals have two rotation spots to fill. Lance Lynn, Joe Kelly, Shelby Miller and Trevor Rosenthal will be in the mix for those jobs.

"I think it's great for us right now," Rosenthal said of that rotation competition. "We're all so young in our career, and being able to bond throughout this time and take the experience from the veterans and apply it to our careers, and to get to talk and work with each other and go into camp and kind of help each other out. … Hopefully we're going to be pitching together for a long time to come."

Rafael Furcal and Jaime Garcia both have to prove that they have recovered fully after season-ending injuries in 2012. The club also has to select a starting second baseman, fill out the bench and find the right mix for the bullpen.

Free-agent signees Randy Choate, Ronny Cedeno and Ty Wigginton will spend the spring assimilating into a new clubhouse that has lost some of its larger voices since the end of the 2012 season. Gone are Kyle Lohse, Lance Berkman and Skip Schumaker. That leaves leadership roles to be seized.

Spring workouts will continue through Feb. 22. The Cardinals then open up Grapefruit League play against the Marlins on Feb. 23. First pitch is scheduled for 12:05 p.m. CT at Roger Dean Stadium.

That will be the first of 32 games the Cardinals have in Grapefruit League play, which, for this organization, ends March 29. The team will then travel to Phoenix to make final preparations for the regular season. The Cardinals will open the year with a 9:10 p.m. CT game against the D-backs at Chase Field.

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.

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