JUPITER, Fla. -- While the decision of who will open the season as the Cardinals' fifth starter has gotten the most press this spring, the club must also decide exactly when it will first plug that pitcher into the rotation.
With three scheduled off-days over the first 10 days of the season, the Cardinals have the flexibility to utilize a four-man rotation for the first two weeks, if they want to.
"We do have quite a few off-days, but we've also talked about kind of taking it easy on some of these guys throughout the season," manager Mike Matheny said. "Maybe at the beginning more rest is an option. All of them will be getting used to the intensity of pitching up north as opposed to what's going on down here, and pitching in the [colder] weather. There are different challenges that come. We realize we probably could go with four guys for a while, but we also know we have an opportunity to use some options to space them out a little bit."
Opening the season with a five-man rotation could specifically help the Cardinals address their workload concerns for Adam Wainwright, who has thrown a Major League-high 519 2/3 innings over the last two seasons. Spacing out his starts now could save pitches for later in the season.
The Cardinals also have to consider the limited exposure that their top three starters will have gotten in Grapefruit League play. John Lackey and Lance Lynn are each scheduled to make four spring starts, with Lackey choosing to make a delayed Grapefruit League entrance and Lynn having his schedule briefly interrupted by a left hip flexor strain. Wainwright, who was slowed by an abdominal strain, will only have time for three starts.
That may warrant a more cautious approach from the Cardinals to open the regular season.
Other items of note from Day 28 at Cardinals camp:
• Center fielder Jon Jay, who took 13 at-bats in a simulated game on Wednesday, is still projected to make his Grapefruit League debut on Friday. He will play the field in that first game appearance.
• Matheny confirmed that Lackey will start for the club on Sunday, while Lynn will take the mound Monday. Because of a crowded rotation, Carlos Martinez, who has already made three spring starts, will enter behind Wainwright on Saturday. He will pitch multiple innings so as to keep increasing his arm strength and pitch count.
Marco Gonzales is likely to follow the same piggybacking script for his next outing.
• Tommy Pham, who exited last Friday's game with a left-quad strain is still not ready to return to games. He participated in a limited workout on Thursday.
• The organization's Minor Leaguers began their Spring Training game schedule on Thursday. The Cardinals rotate between playing against affiliates from the Mets and Marlins.