Cardinals' starting rotation looks formidable

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

JUPITER, Fla. -- Former NL Cy Young Award winner Chris Carpenter is on track to be the St. Louis Cardinals' opening day starter, former 20-game winner Adam Wainwright is back from reconstructive elbow surgery, Jaime Garcia is a top left-hander and underrated Kyle Lohse led the staff in victories and ERA.

Then there's the slimmer, trimmer Jake Westbrook.

The 34-year-old sinkerballer was inconsistent last season, then virtually unused during the postseason. He shed 20 pounds at the team's urging and wants to show he can be counted upon.

"I'd be lying if I said I wasn't disappointed," Westbrook said. "If that opportunity comes about again, I want to have the year where they have confidence to throw me out there. I have a lot of motivation, especially as I'm getting older, to get back to where I'm capable of pitching."

Westbrook's 12-9 record was accompanied by a 4.66 ERA and 1.51 WHIP (walks plus hits per inning), and he was bothered by plantar fasciitis on both feet. He was left off the roster for the division series and NL championship series and was the unlikely World Series Game 6 winner after working an inning of relief in the Cardinals' wild comeback victory over the Rangers.

Two weeks with no carbohydrates melted 14 pounds, and nutrition along with an altered training regimen took care of the rest.

"It was club encouraged," Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said. "He looks good. Obviously, he's lost some weight, but he's also put on some muscle mass, so that's a great combination."

The other spots are so solid that Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak declared early in camp that the team is out of the competition for free agent Roy Oswalt.

Carpenter was just 11-9 last year but won 10 of his last 12 decisions after struggling with command the first couple of months. He went 4-0 in the postseason, beating the Rangers on short rest in Game 7 of the World Series.

Matheny said he plans to pitch the 37-year-old Carpenter on opening day but has not made it official.

"The guy's an animal," Matheny said. "That's the guy we want people following."

Wainwright totaled 39 victories in 2009-10 and appears ready to rejoin Carpenter as twin aces right around the one-year anniversary of the operation that reduced him to cheerleader throughout 2011. Though he's had no issues and is on the same program as the rest of the pitchers, the Cardinals are wary of overloading the 6-foot-7 right-hander too soon.

Mozeliak said at the start of camp that he couldn't envision Wainwright pitching 200 innings. Matheny said Monday that Wainwright was in "uncharted territory."

Garcia was third in the NL Rookie of the Year balloting in 2010 and has won 27 games his first two seasons, earning a four-year contract last summer.

Lohse was 14-8 with a 3.39 ERA last season, finally moving past a forearm injury that led to ineffectiveness for 1 1/2 seasons. He survived rampant trade rumors over the winter and will get the ball for the spring opener against the Marlins on March 5.

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