Uncertainty with Walden could open 'pen spot

Reliever's layoff becoming growing concern as Opening Day nears

Uncertainty with Walden could open 'pen spot

JUPITER, Fla. -- One week away from the Cardinals' season opener in Pittsburgh, the status of reliever Jordan Walden remains murky.

Walden, who has complained of feeling a knot around his right shoulder area, has not pitched in a Grapefruit League game since last Monday. He initially asked the Cardinals to hold him out until at least Tuesday, but did feel improved enough by Sunday afternoon to request the chance to try to return on Monday.

Still, time is running short for Walden to prove he's ready to handle regular-season workload. The Cardinals have four spring games remaining during which to finish their evaluation of a pitcher who spent the final five months of the 2015 season on the disabled list.

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"He has hesitation because he just can't get it going like he wants it to," manager Mike Matheny said on Sunday. "At some point, we're going to have to make a decision. We're going to listen to the medical team and continue to listen to Jordan and see what we've got."

In addition to any concern about a potential re-aggravation of a previous rotator cuff injury, the length of Walden's layoff is soon to be an issue -- he has logged two innings since March 13. The Cardinals had not only intended to see how Walden's arm responded to an increased workload over spring's final week, but they had also planned to test his health with consecutive outings at some point. Now, there will be no time.

"We certainly don't want to go into a season where you already feel your bullpen is short," general manager John Mozeliak acknowledged. "So that's a concern."

The late setback stalls what had otherwise been a strong spring showcase for Walden. He has walked one and scattered three hits over six scoreless Grapefruit League innings. With each outing, concern about a lingering shoulder ailment had been waning.

He had, unofficially, earned back his bullpen spot.

"I liked how Jordan was throwing," Matheny said. "I liked having all that horsepower back there."

Now, the uncertainty surrounding Walden could offer opportunity elsewhere. Although Matheny spoke of Tyler Lyons on Sunday in way that indicated he's all but set to be a member of the bullpen, still another spot would open if Walden begins the year on the DL.

That would likely go to Matt Bowman, a Rule 5 pick from the Mets' organization. He and Juan Gonzalez are the only other competing relievers still in camp following the team's wave of cuts on Sunday afternoon. After the Cardinals' 4-2 loss to the Marlins, Tim Cooney, Dean Kiekhefer, Miguel Socolovich and Sam Tuivailala were sent to Minor League camp.

Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, By Gosh, It's Langosch, follow her on Twitter @LangoschMLB, like her Facebook page Jenifer Langosch for Cardinals.com and listen to her podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.