CHICAGO -- With their decision to deal Sam Freeman to the Rangers on March 28, the Cardinals offered the evidence that they were ready to go all-in with Kevin Siegrist as the team's primary lefty reliever.
But while the Cards cleared the spot as a vote of confidence for a pitcher trying to regain his 2013 form, Siegrist still had much to prove -- mostly to himself. He had convinced himself this spring to buy into the club's suggested mechanical changes, which included incorporating a slide step into his delivery motion. On Wednesday, Siegrist enjoyed an early payoff for the work.
Siegrist entered a one-run game in the seventh and, though he allowed an inherited runner to score, retired all three batters he faced.
"It definitely helps the confidence," Siegrist said of his season debut. "Some days I was comfortable with, some days I wasn't. I just had to battle through it. It feels good right now."
It took Siegrist until the final day of Spring Training to finally feel right about all the work he had done. The changes had been necessary, as the lefty had to find a way to be quicker to the plate in order to control the running game. It all took time. Siegrist's spring was dotted with steps forward (he made seven scoreless Grapefruit League appearances out of his nine outings) but also moments of frustration.
Three days after the Cardinals confirmed Siegrist's place in the Opening Day bullpen, he walked two and allowed two hits while unable to finish an inning against the Marlins. It was an ending manager Mike Matheny didn't want for the lefty, and so he pitched him again two days later in the team's Grapefruit League finale.
Siegrist rebounded with a scoreless showing against the Mets in which he struck out the side in the eighth inning.
"The last game, I kind of just put it all together and tried to simplify things," Siegrist said. "I tried to focus more on executing pitches. Ever since then I've had more success, especially in the strike zone."
Siegrist now finds himself as a key piece in a bullpen that features only one other lefty, Randy Choate, who is designated as a lefty-on-lefty specialist. While it's tough to envision Siegrist dominating as he did in 2013 (0.45 ERA in 45 appearances), the Cards do hope he's effective and reliable enough again to use late.
That was hardly the case in 2014, when Siegrist was slowed by a variety of medical issues. He landed on the disabled list in May with a left forearm strain and then later battled a nerve issue. The latter landed Siegrist back in Triple-A in August and cost him an opportunity to contribute in the postseason.
Siegrist has navigated through the past two months trying to find his path back.
"You look at him just being able to get on the mound, take the ball when he was scheduled to was a big step forward," general manager John Mozeliak said. "You think back to how well he pitched in '13. … I caution people that he's still getting back into that routine. But from an arm strength standpoint and from a talent standpoint, I felt like he showed us what he needed to [in the spring]."