Duke progressing well after TJ surgery

Cardinals reliever could return before '17 season ends

Duke progressing well after TJ surgery

ST. LOUIS -- Zach Duke's scheduled appearance at the Cardinals' Winter Warm-Up was scrapped due to uncooperative weather, but good news about the lefty emerged over the weekend.

"It sounds like things are going well in his rehab," manager Mike Matheny said of Duke. "And we might see him before year's end, too."

That'd be a bonus for the Cardinals, who braced for a 2017 season sans Duke after learning that he needed Tommy John surgery shortly after last season ended. That prompted the organization to pivot in its offseason plans and pursue Brett Cecil, who signed a four-year contract in November.

Most pitchers require about a year of rehab before being able to consider a return from Tommy John surgery. If Duke can speed up that process by even just a few weeks, he could be a factor in September.

Duke was a key piece in the Cardinals' bullpen down the stretch last season after being acquired at the Trade Deadline. In 28 appearances, he allowed five runs in 23 1/3 innings.

Weight gain

While many players use the offseason to slim down, Mike Leake is hoping to add a few pounds before reporting to Jupiter, Fla., in a few weeks. Leake has been angling to put on more weight since his August bout with shingles. He lost several pounds and missed two starts while ill.

Leake's strong all-around effort

"It affects your body for a few months, that's for sure," Leake said. "In-season, it makes it tougher because you are kind of beating [up] your body, and it kind of hits you a little harder. Now, I finally feel like I'm getting completely over it to where I can start gaining weight."

His ideal reading on the scale is 190 pounds.

Who's up first?

Adam Wainwright couldn't even get to Spring Training before he was asked to comment on potential Opening Day assignments. Wainwright has started the club's season opener each of the last four years, but even he acknowledged that his streak could soon be coming to an end.

Martinez earns win No. 16

"You never can tell, man," Wainwright said. "But Carlos Martinez pitched great last year. So, if [Matheny] thinks he deserves that top spot, then I would never argue with it. But I plan on pitching a heck of a lot better this year than I did last year."

If the assignment is determined by 2016 results, then Martinez will be the obvious choice. He anchored the rotation with a 3.04 ERA, 16-9 record and 20 quality starts. Wainwright labored through the season, posting a 4.62 ERA.

The Cardinals open 2017 in a nationally televised game against the defending World Series-champion Cubs on April 2.

Stadium transformation

With the success of the Winter Classic still fresh in his mind, Cardinals president Bill DeWitt III said that the organization has informally discussed the possibility of hosting future winter events at Busch Stadium. This isn't an original idea, as other clubs have experimented with stadium transformations.

Langosch on Winter Classic

Petco Park in San Diego, for instance, houses a nine-hole golf course in the offseason. At Boston's Fenway Park, an ice skating rink brings people into the ballpark for college hockey games and general-admission skating. Cleveland's Progressive Field used to run a Snow Days promotion that featured inner-tube sledding and ice skating.

DeWitt III said he will continue to talk with members of other organizations to determine if something similar would be feasible in St. Louis at a later date.

Jenifer Langosch has covered the Cardinals for MLB.com since 2012, and previously covered the Pirates from 2007-11. Read her blog, follow her on Twitter, like her Facebook page and listen to her podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.