JUPITER, Fla. • With that visit to the Oval Office out of the way, Cardinals reliever Luke Gregerson got back to work Tuesday morning and tested how close he was to returning to the mound.
On the Cardinals' first off day of spring training, Gregerson traveled with the Houston Astros to Washington, D.C., for the traditional White House visit for champions. Gregerson and his former teammates took the World Series trophy to the White House, visited the Oval Office and a state dining room, and posed and met with President Donald Trump.
Gregerson's comments about the trip were slightly briefer than the visit.
He called it "good."
That's partially because he was on his way back to throw.
With the exception of one perfect inning against Atlanta more than a week ago, Gregerson has not thrown much this spring. A few days after he struck out two Braves, Gregerson felt some tightness in his left oblique. Past injuries in the area made him aware of the soreness -- and what it could cause. So he and the Cardinals agreed to stop his throwing progression and allow the oblique to heal.
He tested it Tuesday with a game of catch.
Manager Mike Matheny suggested that Gregerson's next step could be throwing a bullpen session to get a feel for the mound. From there he could advance to face hitters in a simulated game or back into Grapefruit League play. The team still believes there is enough time for Gregerson to get ready and be available for opening day. Pitching coach Mike Maddux said his preference is for all of the relievers to appear in back-to-back games before leaving Florida, but Gregerson, as a veteran, may not be held to that schedule.
The Cardinals entered spring training intent on having Gregerson begin the season as their closer. In his absence, the needle has drifted toward Dominic Leone. He is three-for-three in save chances this spring, and Matheny conceded it's not just a coincidence that Leone continues to get late-game assignments like that.
Yes, the major-leaguers tend to be out of the game by then.
But, Leone's appearance in those spots matter to the Cardinals.
Matheny mentioned that when it comes to the bullpen "the more the merrier," and his preference has been to carry eight relievers. The two off days in the first two weeks of the regular season may allow the front office to carry seven relievers, though with the performances of spring and Gregerson's availability (or lack thereof) the play might be carrying eight from the start. That would free up one spot for the Cardinals to give one of the surprise relievers of spring, such as Josh Lucas or Mike Mayers, either of whom is already on the 40-man roster.
The Cardinals have also announced recently that Bud Norris would be used in relief.
At this point, the Cardinals' incumbents and major-league addition for the bullpen are:
- Luke Gregerson, RHP
- Dominic Leone, RHP
- Matt Bowman, RHP
- Sam Tuivailala, RHP (out of options)
- John Brebbia, RHP
- Brett Cecil, LHP
- Tyler Lyons, LHP (out of options)
- Bud Norris, RHP
The Cardinals have some flexibility with Bowman and Brebbia because they have options, and they could use those spots to put one of the other top performers from spring, or an injury could clear a spot. Either way, the Cardinals' front office has said that it expects to run a shuttle between Class AAA Memphis' bullpen and the Cardinals to retool the bullpen every so often based on who is pitching well, and what role is needed.
Around May 1, the Cardinals expect to add Alex Reyes to the mix as well. And the team sees him as a 90- or 100-inning reliever.