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.
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.