Navy Lt. Harris serves Cardinals for first time
After five-year commitment, pitcher debuts in big league camp
JUPITER, Fla. -- He took the mound to "Anchors Aweigh" and an introduction that identified him properly as a lieutenant of the United States Navy. And while he wasn't pleased with the on-field result, Mitch Harris certainly did not lose sight of the moment.
Drafted out of the Naval Academy in the 13th round of the 2008 First-Year Player Draft, Harris' baseball career was put on hold by the five-year military service commitment he first had to meet. Harris received his release from the Navy in January, allowing him the chance to report early to Spring Training and begin the process of working back into pitching shape.
Aware of Harris' story and having heard of the progress he's made this spring, Cardinals manager Mike Matheny invited Harris to serve as an "extra pitcher" in Sunday's Grapefruit League games. Typically, Minor League pitchers called up for the day don't see any action. Matheny wanted to make an exception in this case, however, to "honor a kid who made a sacrifice to our country like he has."
With one out and the tying run at second in the seventh, Matheny made the summons.
"If you had told me this two or three years ago," Harris later said of the opportunity, "I wouldn't have believed you."
The results weren't as anyone would have drawn them up for such a feel-good moment. Harris allowed a pair of two-run homers and retired only one hitter. He shouldered the loss in the 10-7 defeat to the Mets.
"It's one of those learning experiences," Harris said. "You get humbled real quickly. But it's good because it's going to definitely jumpstart another whole level or work ethic to get to where I want to be. If I was just happy to be here in Minor League camp, then I'm not here for the right reasons.
"A day like today really shows that, hey, it's not just going to come back. Each day give it 100 percent and make progress. It's going to take time. The more time I get, the better I'll get."
The Cardinals are encouraged by the progress they've seen Harris make already this spring. Though his fastball velocity sat around 92-94 mph in college, he entered camp throwing it around 80 mph. That was to be expected from a pitcher who had few opportunities to pitch while he served.
But that velocity has already ticked up about 6-7 mph, and the Cardinals are pleased with the development of Harris' breaking ball. The organization will have him stay in Jupiter to pitch in extended spring training next month before eventually sending him off to one of the Minor League affiliates.
"Obviously, he's tremendously coachable," said farm director John Vuch. "Really, for him, it's a matter of getting back into pitching shape. He went five years without pitching competitively and not really being able to throw on a consistent basis, so I think he's getting back into baseball shape.
"We're excited in what we see from him now compared to where he was a month ago."
Westbrook acknowledges fatigue late in outing
JUPITER, Fla. -- In his second-to-last start of the spring, Jake Westbrook's biggest nemesis turned out not to be the Mets' offense, but rather the onset of fatigue.
Pushing toward the 90-pitch mark for the first time this spring, Westbrook said he felt himself tire in the last of the six innings he pitched in Sunday's 10-7 loss to the Mets. That led to a clear dip in command.
After facing only 19 batters in the first five innings, the righty labored against seven in the sixth. He started to fall behind in counts and allowed the Mets to push across two runs on three hits and a walk.
"I hate to admit that, but I did [tire]," Westbrook said. "But that's what Spring Training is for, to get to that limit and to push myself and get into that 90-pitch count range."
In a regular-season game, manager Mike Matheny would have relieved Westbrook mid-inning. But with a week left of Spring Training, pitch counts, not the game outcome, remain the priority. Westbrook ended the inning with a pitch count of 87.
"We could see that he hit a wall, but we needed [him] to push through that wall," Matheny said. "I thought he did a nice job. I was really impressed with his stuff early on. He had nice pop on the ball, real good sink, ground balls were there."
Indeed, Westbrook looked sharp early. He allowed only two hits in the first five innings and induced a healthy dose of ground balls, evidence of an effective sinker. Westbrook will start the Cardinals' last Grapefruit League game on Friday for his final spring tuneup.
Freeman returns from shoulder impingement
JUPITER, Fla. -- Sam Freeman, slowed by a left shoulder impingement for much of camp, returned to the mound in the Cardinals' 10-7 loss to the Mets on Sunday.
Freeman faced just three hitters -- and retired only one -- but the fact that he was back on the mound represented tangible progress. The left-hander's only other Grapefruit League appearance came on Feb. 24.
"I felt good. I just didn't get the job done today," said Freeman, who allowed a walk and a single. "I'm not going to use the time off as an excuse for expecting any different result."
Freeman isn't expected to break the Cardinals' Opening Day roster, but he is optimistic that slight changes to his mechanics -- changes designed to decrease the stress on his shoulder -- will help him overcome an arm issue that has plagued him for a year. The tendinitis that Freeman battled last season is believed to have been related to the impingement that halted his throwing program this spring.
"I see a big upside and a kid that you can't help but like," manager Mike Matheny said. "He's very polite, works hard and has stuff that you can't help but like. He's got some more work to do on the consistency."
• Though the Cardinals will fly to Arizona next Friday in advance of their April 1 season opener, the team will leave its fifth starter behind in Jupiter, Fla., to pitch in a Minor League game on Saturday. That assignment will go to either Shelby Miller or Joe Kelly, both of whom will have one fewer Grapefruit League appearance than the other starters on the team.
• The organization has not officially announced any Minor League assignments, but it's expected that right-hander Michael Wacha will begin the year in the Triple-A rotation. Though he has pitched only 21 professional innings, Wacha earned the chance to start in Memphis with a sensational showing in Major League camp this spring.
• Randy Choate faced one batter on Sunday and he served up a two-run double to the left-handed-hitting Darrell Ceciliani. Manager Mike Matheny continues to put Choate in situations where he can face lefties, but Choate hasn't retired any of the six batters he has faced in his last four appearances.
• Ty Wigginton, hitless since March 7, contributed a pinch-hit double on Sunday. The hit was just the fifth in Wigginton's 44 at-bats this spring.
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.