Woodford tosses five scoreless innings, striking out seven vs. Marlins Cardinals News 

March 20th, 2023

JUPITER, Fla. — The Cardinals received some roster clarity Monday, when shortstop Paul DeJong suffered a setback in his return from lower back pain that has kept him off the field for the better part of the past week. The issue is now expected to sideline DeJong for at least another week before he can resume baseball activity, heightening the likelihood that he will begin the season on the injured list.

“I thought I was ready to take ground balls today and flared it back up,” DeJong said. “So I’m going to have to back off until I feel like I can flex my spine and rotate it. I thought hitting was good, but I wasn’t in a flex spine position … now I know I pushed it a little too far, so I need to back off.”

This was dubbed a critical spring for DeJong, coming off a season in which the 2019 All-Star hit .157 and spent more than two months at Triple-A Memphis. He spent most of the offseason at the Cards’ Florida complex reworking his swing, then he hit .154 with one homer and six walks across 19 plate appearances in Grapefruit League play.

But the back issue flared up Tuesday, preventing DeJong from fully bending down to field grounders. He had been scheduled to return to action Tuesday, before experiencing the setback Monday morning trying to backhand a ground ball and simulate his throwing motion.

“I guess in the back of my mind, I felt like I wasn’t fully there,” DeJong said. “I can’t touch my toes. I can’t do normal things right now, so it’s definitely not playable. But I’m just thankful for my chance to be here still, and I’m just going to do what I can every day until I hear anything else.”

With 10 days remaining until the Cardinals open the regular season March 30, the team acknowledges time is running out for DeJong to heal and ramp up for Opening Day.

Asked if he thinks he’ll be ready to play again before the Cardinals break camp, DeJong said “probably not.”

His absence should enhance the opportunity for several players battling for the final bench spot, potentially creating a path to the Opening Day roster for outfielders Alec Burleson and Juan Yepez or utility man Taylor Motter. The journeyman Motter, who has opened eyes with his versatility and power this spring, is the only member of that group capable of playing the middle infield.

“It’s been a frustrating spring, because I didn’t get to play the field right away and now I can’t finish it off,” DeJong said. “But I just got to keep going. I know things can change. I know it’s a long season, so I’m just going to do what I got to do each day, and eventually it’ll be good enough to be out there on the field again and show what I can do.”

Making his caseA day after Dakota Hudson took a step backward in the battle for the Cardinals’ sixth starter/swingman job, right-hander Jake Woodford may have sealed his case to head north with the team in that spot. Tossing five scoreless innings in Monday’s 5-0 win over the Marlins, Woodford struck out seven in what could be his last start of an excellent spring.

“It’s a fine line between competing and working on stuff,” Woodford said. “Believing in my stuff, and knowing that it’s small tweaks at this point. I’m not reinventing my pitches, or trying to change anything drastically with my arsenal. It’s more just execution, consistency and just fine-tuning stuff.”

The club’s first-round Draft pick in 2015, Woodford emerged as a valuable depth arm in 2022, pitching to a 2.23 ERA across 48 1/3 innings in a versatile role. He has impressed the club with his development of a new slider this spring and has had excellent results in Grapefruit League play, pitching to a 2.04 ERA with an 18/5 strikeout-to-walk ratio across 17 2/3 innings. In the process, he’s outpitched Hudson considerably.

With five named starters and seven returning relievers, one of them appears ticketed to Memphis to begin the year. If Woodford’s performance is any indication, it shouldn’t be him.

Your browser does not support HTML5 video tag. Click here to view original asset

“He continues to get better and better, and that was a pretty impressive outing,” Cardinals manager Oliver Marmol said. “We do have some tough decisions, but that right there is exactly what we wanted to see today.”