JUPITER, Fla. -- While most of the Cardinals' Opening Day roster has already taken shape, general manager John Mozeliak acknowledged on Saturday that a decision regarding the status of Rule 5 right-hander Matt Bowman "could come down to the final hour."
Making their first Rule 5 selection in four years, the Cardinals plucked Bowman from the Mets' organization in December, believing he could fit as a long reliever on the big league club. He has impressed the staff this spring, though an opportunity to crack a big league roster for the first time appears as if it will hinge on the health of the team's pitching staff.
In particular, questions about Jordan Walden's readiness persist.
Tightness around Walden's shoulder has prevented him from throwing since Monday. The Cardinals had hoped to test Walden, who missed the final five months of the 2015 season with a torn rotator cuff, with consecutive outings during this final week of camp. Now, they likely won't have the time.
If the Cardinals determine that Walden is not ready to start the season, that would leave the club with two reliever jobs to fill. Lefty Tyler Lyons is a strong candidate for one, given his out-of-option status and previous success at the Major League level. Bowman, Sam Tuivailala, Dean Kiekhefer, Juan Gonzalez and Miguel Socolovich also remain in the mix.
"All I can do is go out there and pitch when they ask me to pitch," said Bowman, who was charged with three unearned runs in an inning of work on Saturday. "I'm happy that they're still rolling me out there. I know that it won't be an easy path to make the team. They have a great bullpen, established bullpen. This last week, I'll see if I can pitch well."
Mozeliak has met with Bowman to let him know that the team's decision may not come until next weekend. Bowman's situation is unique, of course, given that as a Rule 5 player, he would have to be placed on waivers and then offered back to the Mets for half the Cardinals' $50,000 purchase price if he does not make the big league club out of camp.
If the Cardinals do see a place for Bowman on their club, they must keep him on their 25-man roster all season in order to retain his rights.
"I think he's done a nice job," Mozeliak said of Bowman. "Obviously, when you have limitations on roster flexibility due to the Rule 5 [Draft], creating internal flexibility as best we can is critical to that. So understanding the makeup of that roster, and how the next six days play out, I think we're going to have to utilize all those days to make a final decision."
Bowman, 24, has made six spring appearances, and said he looks at his March 16 outing against the Braves as a turning point with his work. He allowed four runs on five hits in an inning that day, but followed with a pair of scoreless outings his next two times out. His inning on Saturday in the Cards' 7-0 loss to the Nats was complicated by a pair of errors committed behind him.
Other than try to make the most of any forthcoming opportunities next week, Bowman can do little else but wait.
"As long as I'm still here, I'll still be pitching," Bowman said. "But as soon they're not interested, I know I'll be gone. I'll just make the most of the outings I have left."