JUPITER, Fla. -- Randy Choate plans to handle Spring Training differently in his second year with the Cardinals than he did the first, which turned out to be a tumultuous few weeks of trying to get sufficient work in Grapefruit League games. This year, Choate said, he would like to forgo some of those in-game appearances for ones on the backfield.
Choate, the elder statesman of Cardinals camp at the age of 38, has gone through Spring Training enough to have a good gauge on what he needs to do in order to be ready for Opening Day. It was around the time he carved out a niche as a left-on-left specialist that Choate found the spring routine that he feels works best for him.
With both Tampa Bay (2009-10) and Miami ('11-12), Choate cut down his appearances in actual exhibition games and replaced that work by facing his team's own hitters in a controlled setting. The field that Choate threw on, he found, was irrelevant in the process of building up his arm. He'd like to follow this method again.
"I don't think I was as open communication-wise as I will be with [manager] Mike [Matheny] about liking to throw on the backfields more, rather than throw in big league games," Choate said. "I'm just worried about getting pitches in. I understand when the season comes, that's going to be solely left-on-left. I'd rather do that a little more [one-inning work this spring] this year than the one-batter appearance.
"When it comes down to the last week and you start getting into your role, then I understand that. But early in camp or in the middle of March, I'd rather do both. If you don't have an inning for me in big league camp, that's fine. I'll go back there [in the backfields]. It doesn't hurt my ego. I'd rather do that."
In Matheny's attempts to get Choate matchups against lefties last spring, the reliever did not get as much work as he had hoped. And in the appearances he made, the results were discouraging. After logging three innings in three February exhibition games, Choate retired a batter in just three of the nine appearances he made in March.
In most of those, he entered just to face a left-handed hitter or two, as Matheny tried to use him as he would during the regular season. The problem with that maneuvering, though, was that Choate threw only a few pitches each time he took the mound.
Matheny said he agrees that things need to be structured a bit differently for Choate this spring. While he'd still like Choate to make abbreviated appearances against left-handed hitters in Grapefruit League games, the club will help Choate fill in any missing work by scheduling additional side work for the veteran reliever.
"Last year, I don't feel Randy left spring in a good spot, and a lot of that was how we tried to get him work done like everyone else," Matheny said. "It could turn into him getting work there [in games] and then jumping back [to the practice fields] and then trying to find as many left-handers as we can throw in there so he can get his pitch count up."
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.Less