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Friday, March 7, 2008

Pineiro ready for delayed spring debut

Pineiro ready for delayed spring debut
By Derrick Goold


VERO BEACH, Fla. -– A day before Joel Pineiro makes his belated first start of spring, the Cardinals’ righthander sat in front of his locker and said he and his once-ailing shoulder were ready.

"I’m already nervous," he joked.

As the pieces of the Cardinals’ starting rotation have flaked away this spring – Matt Clement tossed from the mound to strengthen his arm; Pineiro slowed by his shoulder; etc., etc. – it has become increasingly apparent how starved for innings the team could be early this season. That need shifted the attention to Anthony Reyes, who could alleviate some of the issue by making the rotation and making regular starts. Reyes is important.

But only if Pineiro does the same.

Past Adam Wainwright and Braden Looper, the Cardinals do not return a pitcher who made more than 20 starts last season. Wainwright is the only healthy arm in the bunch who had a 200-inning season in 2007. Pineiro has it in him, or at least on his baseball card.

Three times in Seattle he made at least 28 starts and appeared in at least 30 games. Three times he pitched 189 innings or more.

The Cardinals plucked him out of Boston’s Triple-A bullpen last year and instantly made him a starter, because they had a vacancy. He pitched his way into a two-year, $13-million deal with the team – going 6-4 with a 3.96 ERA in 11 starts. He missed his first start of spring after experience tightness in his right shoulder. The club shifted him to a more intensive stretching and strengthening program, one he’ll have to keep up.

Though he’s a start behind the other starters, the Cardinals don’t expect that to keep him from his first turn in April. His prep begins today against the LA Dodgers in one of the Cardinals final visits to Dodgertown.

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