Bowman looks to stick as Cards' ground-ball ace

Bowman looks to stick as Cards' ground-ball ace

JUPITER, Fla. -- There was a flashback, Matt Bowman admitted, when he walked into the Cardinals' spring clubhouse for the start of camp. It had been a year since he first entered the same space, uncertain whether he'd find a home with this organization, and, if so, how he would fit.

Bowman, a Rule 5 pick then, comes now with a year of Major League service time and a proven repertoire that the Cardinals believe can help fill the void left by Seth Maness' departure.

It was Bowman's ability to induce ground-ball contact that so intrigued the Cardinals when they were mulling whether to make a selection in the 2015 Rule 5 Draft. They looked past the numbers Bowman had just posted in a hitter-friendly home park and decided he was worth a chance.

Bowman impressed last spring, earned a roster spot and never relinquished it. By the end of the year, Bowman had emerged as one of the team's most trusted relievers. His 59 appearances were the most by a Cardinals Rule 5 pitcher in his first year with the club.

"It's a high expectation when you have to make the team and stick," manager Mike Matheny said. "It was impressive what he was able to do. He comes in [this year] with the same mindset -- that I have to make the team all over again. He realizes where he is. He's a smart kid."

Bowman escapes jam

Bowman acknowledges the reality that he actually has less leverage this spring than he did a year ago, when, if the Cardinals had not placed him on their Opening Day roster, the right-hander would have been offered back to the Mets. Now, the Cardinals can shuttle Bowman back to the Minors without limitation.

"This year there is in-between ground," Bowman said. "And I expect them to utilize that if I don't earn my spot on the team."

The Cardinals hope that's not necessary, as they're grooming Bowman to be the bullpen ground-ball specialist that Maness once was. Using a sinker-slider-changeup mix, Bowman ranked sixth among all National League relievers with a ground-ball percentage of 62.1 and fourth with his 4.00 ground ball-to-fly ball ratio in his rookie season.

He led the team with 17 multi-inning appearances, induced eight double plays and stranded 17 of 24 inherited runners, including the bases loaded three times.

"If I can have success and be in that role, that would be fantastic," Bowman said of following in Maness' footsteps. "My role changed a lot last year, and I didn't read too much into it. If they trust me enough to go in with runners on base, I'll try to make sure I don't let them down."

Jenifer Langosch has covered the Cardinals for 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.