Walters gets tough test in MLB debut

Walters gets tough test in MLB debut

CHICAGO -- Hoping to ease at least some of the pressure on rookie right-hander P.J. Walters, the Cardinals elected not to have him make his debut under the lights on ESPN's Sunday Night Baseball. Instead, Walters will pitch Friday -- against Cubs ace Carlos Zambrano. Have fun, kid.

Still, it seems that Walters has the right idea as he prepares to make his Major League debut.

"Every game is a big game," he said.

Walters moves into the rotation in place of Chris Carpenter, who is sidelined with a left oblique muscle injury. He actually will pitch prior to Carpenter's originally scheduled turn in the rotation, allowing the Cardinals to push two other starters back an extra day.

The Cardinals' Minor League pitcher of the year in 2007, Walters hit a bump in the road when he reached Triple-A Memphis in 2008. But Walters enjoyed a solid campaign with Carolina in the Puerto Rican Winter League, and followed it up with an excellent spring.

That allowed him to move up on the list of candidates for an in-season promotion, passing alternatives such as Mitchell Boggs, who pitched for the big club in 2008.

"Last year in Memphis wasn't exactly the way I planned it, but I learned a lot of things," Walters said. "And then I was able to work this winter and in the spring and got things back the way they should be. Going down there and being able to throw, have hitters in the box, it's a lot easier to tell how good what you're doing is."

While facing Zambrano and the Cardinals' biggest rivals makes for a tough challenge for Walters, in a sense it may also lessen the pressure. St. Louis rarely hits the Chicago ace well. If Walters can hold his own and keep the club in the game, it will be an accomplishment.

Not that his teammates are looking at it that way. Up 1-0 in their weekend series with the Cubs, they're gunning for more.

"We face one of the best guys in the league, who always gives us a tough time," said Albert Pujols. "We need to figure out how to beat that guy. [Walters] is pretty pumped up, and if he's here, it's because he's got something special."

Pitching matchup
STL: RHP P.J. Walters (0-0, -.-- ERA)
Walters impressed the Major League staff in Spring Training, leapfrogging to the top of the sixth-starter chart. He throws strikes and keeps the ball on the ground, two traits that endear any young pitcher to manager Tony La Russa and pitching coach Dave Duncan. Still, Walters struggled somewhat last year in his first exposure to Triple-A, and it will be intriguing to see how he handles big league hitters in his first shot.

CHC: RHP Carlos Zambrano (1-0, 3.00 ERA)
This will be Zambrano's first start at home this season. The right-hander was 7-2 at Wrigley last year. In his last start Saturday night at Miller Park, Zambrano gave up three runs on seven hits and three walks over six innings. He did strike out seven, but also threw 118 pitches. Prince Fielder connected on one of those for his first homer. The runs were the first off Zambrano at Miller Park in 20 innings. He was 1-2 with a 12.75 ERA against the Cardinals last year.

Tidbits
Chris Duncan and Ryan Ludwick both have hit in every game in which they've appeared this year. ... Pujols is 14-for-54 (.259) against Zambrano, but has five home runs off the big righty. ... Skip Schumaker is 7-for-19 with four extra-base hits against Zambrano, good for a .368 average and .737 slugging percentage. ... Khalil Greene is 1-for-18 (.056) against Zambrano. ... Yadier Molina is 14-for-82 (.171) in his career at Wrigley Field.

Tickets
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On the Internet
 MLB.TV
 Gameday Audio
•  Gameday
•  Official game notes

On television
• FS-M

On radio
• KTRS 550

Up next
• Saturday: Cardinals (Kyle Lohse, 2-0, 1.13) at Cubs (Ryan Dempster, 1-0, 4.50), 2:40 p.m. CT
• Sunday: Cardinals (Todd Wellemeyer, 1-1, 4.50) at Cubs (Ted Lilly, 2-0, 3.86), 7:05 p.m. CT
• Monday: Off-day

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