ST. LOUIS -- Carlos Martinez began the 2013 season behind, a byproduct of visa issues that kept him stuck in the Dominican Republic for nearly the entire duration of camp. This year, he has prepared himself to be ahead.
Days before his Sunday appearance at the Cardinals' Winter Warm-Up, Martinez wrapped up a six-start winter ball stint that allowed him the chance to get some work as a starter. The work, Martinez hopes, will help expedite the build-up process in Spring Training, where he will be competing for a spot in the starting rotation.
"I'm working hard right now and hopefully with all my hard work, I'll be in it," Martinez said through his translator and business manager Alexy Hernandez. "I thank God for the opportunity to be here. I have been working hard in the offseason to get to that spot."
Martinez logged 23 2/3 innings for the Aguilas Cibaenas club in the Dominican Winter Leagues after joining the team in mid-December. He allowed 22 hits, 14 runs (eight earned), walked four and struck out 26. In his final start on Jan. 15, Martinez pitched seven shutout innings.
"I wanted to get more experience as a starter and pitch to more quality guys to get the experience that I needed," Martinez said. "I wanted to work on certain pitches that I'll use as a starter before I come in and compete for that spot."
Regardless of how well Martinez pitches this spring, he will have a tough time cracking the rotation, only because of the number of other worthy candidates. If there is no starting spot available, Martinez is likely to find a place in the bullpen (at least temporarily), as he did in 2013.
Martinez will spend the remaining time before camp in Miami, where he will throw live batting practice and bullpens.
Adams gearing for first by facing left-handers
ST. LOUIS -- Presented with the opportunity to win a job as the team's starting first baseman, Matt Adams has tailored his offseason work to dropping pounds and preparing for lefties.
A noticeably slimmed down Adams appeared at the Cardinals' Winter Warm-Up on Sunday. Adams said he has dropped about six-to-seven pounds on the scale, though the numbers shortchange the fact that he has dropped a significant amount of body fat while adding muscle. Much of the body composition change is a result of diet, as Adams worked with team chef Simon Lusky.
"It benefited me last year," Adams said, "and I want to gain ground on it this year and keep it going."
Adams is also preparing for the possibility of playing every day by trying to sharpen up against left-handers, who held him to a .231/.231/.423 slash line in 52 at-bats last season. A winter ago, Adams spent hours in the batting cage with a pitching machine programmed to throw southpaw sliders.
Adams has done so again this offseason and is adding live pitching to the mix, too. He said he's inviting some "younger, elite college guys [to] come in and throw lefty batting practice."
"We want to get in," Adams continued, "and see the ball coming out of the guy's hands to actually try to get the timing down and see the rotation of the ball."
The hope, of course, is that the work will help boost Adams' numbers as he faces left-handers with more regularity. How well he fares in those spots will be a determining factor, too, in whether he sticks as the starting first baseman or eventually slides back into a bench role due to a crowding outfield.
As for the right elbow pain that plagued him late last season, Adams said he is confident that rest has helped quell that issue. He was able to play through the discomfort with the help of an elbow brace and said he may continue to wear the brace as a precautionary measure. Though big and bulky, the brace does not inhibit Adams' swing.
With the elbow issue alleviated and the offseason preparation specific to past weaknesses, Adams hopes to arrive in Spring Training ready not just to take a starting job, but to prove that he has earned it.
"I think it's a huge opportunity, but you never know what can happen," Adams said. "You just have to go with it, run with it and hopefully things work out. I just have to go down there ready to perform, ready to fight for a job."
Jay looks forward to center-field competition
ST. LOUIS -- Jon Jay is well aware of the new competition he'll face in center field this season, though he has not let it affect his approach heading into Spring Training.
Jay spoke to Cardinals manager Mike Matheny after the November acquisition of Peter Bourjos and let the skipper know that he understood the organization's desire to add depth at the position. Since then, Jay has prepared for a position battle, one that he'll enter an underdog, despite being the team's starting center fielder since the organization traded Colby Rasmus in July 2011.
"Being in this organization, they're going to do whatever it takes to win," Jay said. "That's just the nature of this organization. That's what they're going to do. As a player, that's what you want. You want a team that if there is something that they feel they can address, you want that done ... because you want to win. To me, it's the same competition. I'm just going out there and just continuing to prove myself in the Major Leagues."
Though Jay defended the preparation and effort he put in last season, his 2013 results were nonetheless disappointing. Following a season in which he hit .305, Jay posted a .276/.351/.370 slash line in 157 games and dropped to the bottom-third of the lineup.
His production was inconsistent, his defense sometimes shaky.
"It's one of those things where I obviously struggled at the beginning of the season and [in] the playoffs," Jay said. "I had some bright moments to the season. I'm going to look at the positives. The positives were the second half. I was back to my normal career numbers. I did what I know I'm capable of doing."
The Cardinals have not promised all the playing time in center field to Bourjos, so Jay can play his way back into the lineup with an uptick in results. The difference this year is merely that nothing will be guaranteed.
"I'm going to come in and be ready to compete," Jay said. "It's one of those things we're going to do everything it takes to win. That's one of the things this organization does. I'm looking forward to showing up to Spring Training and just going out there and competing."
Healthy Craig good to go for Spring Training
ST. LOUIS -- Allen Craig confirmed on Sunday that there are no lingering effects from a left foot injury that cost him seven weeks of the season/postseason and then limited him during the World Series.
At the recommendation of the Cardinals' medical staff, Craig rested his foot for a month after returning home this offseason. He then went through additional rehab and conditioning before resuming a more normal workout regimen.
"I'll be ready for Spring Training and ready for the season," Craig said. "I'm feeling good."
Craig sustained a Lisfranc injury to his left foot while making an awkward turn around first base in a Sept. 4 game against the Reds. That ended his regular season and cost Craig the opportunity to contribute in the first two rounds of the postseason. He returned for the World Series but had minimal mobility since he was not yet fully healed.
Still, Craig managed to contribute. In addition to scoring the winning run in a bizarre walk-off victory in Game 3, Craig tallied six hits in 16 at-bats.
"It was pretty sore and it was a little bit of a struggle, but that's not something I really like to talk about," Craig said. "If I had it my way, I wouldn't have been injured and had that be the topic of conversation. So in that regard, it was frustrating. But also, I was extremely excited to get out there and play again and finish out the season with my teammates.
"That was a pretty tough time in my career, not being able to finish out September with the guys. It was a really tough time for that injury to happen. So to get out there and play in the World Series and contribute with the team was a great experience overall."
As Craig has taken time for his foot to heal, he has also watched the complexion of the Cardinals' roster affect his role. Used primarily at first base, Craig is now projected to begin the season in right field. He has prepared for that by incorporating more long toss -- designed to stretch out his arm -- into his workouts.
"I'm excited to get out in the outfield and run around a little bit and have a good time out there," Craig said.
Motte heading to Florida to continue rehab
ST. LOUIS -- Jason Motte traveled to St. Louis this weekend to participate in the Cardinals' Winter Warm-Up and to accept the Darryl Kile Award at Sunday's annual St. Louis Baseball Writers' Association of America (BBWAA) Dinner. On Monday, he'll be relocating to Florida to continue his rehab work.
Motte, who has spent the offseason at his Memphis home, will report to the Cardinals' Jupiter, Fla., complex several weeks early so that he can work alongside assistant athletic trainer Adam Olsen as he continues to rebuild arm strength from Tommy John surgery. After taking a respite from throwing (as was prescribed in his program), Motte will resume playing catch this week.
As for a timetable for his return to game play, Motte won't yet speculate that far in advance. What is known, though, is that he'll participate in a modified Spring Training program and won't be ready to break camp with the club.
"You don't want to rush it to get it back," Motte said. "Then we're not doing anything but hurting me, hurting everyone else. We have some pretty good guys down there [in the bullpen], so it's not like they're really hurting. … I just need to take my time and get healthy and get where I can go out there and help the team win. Me rushing to do anything isn't going to help anyone."
Tommy John surgery typically comes with a recovery time of 12-15 months. Motte underwent the procedure in early May 2013.
When he does return, Motte knows that his closer's job will not be waiting for him. The Cardinals have already tapped Trevor Rosenthal as their ninth-inning guy for the 2014 season. Motte, assuming he comes back healthy and strong, is expected to slide into a setup role.
"Look at what he's done the whole time he's been up here," Motte said of Rosenthal. "This really isn't a surprise that he was able to go out there and pitch the way he did. … I get [the decision] 100 percent."
• Tony La Russa, who will be inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame this summer, was among the Cardinals alumni to participate in Winter Warm-Up. The former manager signed autographs on Sunday -- and, for one of the first times, included "HOF" next to his signature, if someone asked.
As for his election to the Hall of Fame, La Russa remarked: "It's a unique club, and I'm not really comfortable being in it."
• Having spent last offseason engrossed in learning a new position (third base), Matt Carpenter took advantage of the opportunity to actually enjoy some downtime this fall. He said he took two weeks off after the World Series, during which he and his wife moved into a new home.
"I'm a pretty high-energy guy," said Carpenter, who is now preparing to move back to third base. "I get pretty restless when I sit around. Most of the time after a season, I take a couple of days and then I'm ready to get back to work. This season, I needed two weeks of nothing. I really enjoyed that."
• Right fielder Stephen Piscotty is among the organization's Minor League players to receive a non-roster invite to Spring Training. He is also a part of the logjam of outfielders the Cardinals have in the upper levels of their farm system. That surplus, Piscotty said in his Winter Warm-Up appearance on Sunday, serves as additional motivation.
"That's why I think the system is so good," said Piscotty, the No. 36 overall pick in the 2012 First-Year Player Draft. "I think there are players, good players at every single position. Ultimately, a player recognizes that, and you've got to be the best. You can't ever take a day off or relax. It's just good competition. Honestly, I'm fortunate that that's there because I think that's going to make me a better player in the long run."
• It has been an eventful offseason for right-hander Joe Kelly, who got married in November and has since been shaken by an earthquake and watched wildfires burn down dozens of structures in his area of southern California.
The earthquake, which Kelly said registered in the mid-4s on the Richter scale, knocked down a few items in his home but otherwise caused no damage. His home has also been spared from the ongoing fires in Glendora, Calif., because of the direction of the wind.
• Mark Ellis, asked about the October perception that the Cardinals and Dodgers had clashing personalities, noted that he expects to find the two clubhouses "nights-and-day dissimilar."
"It's not bad one way or the other," Ellis added. "A little bit more flamboyance with the Dodgers. But when you're inside that clubhouse, guys are having fun. When you're outside the clubhouse, they're cocky or arrogant or whatever. You look at the way the Cardinals went about it, kind of put their heads down. They're having fun, too. But it seems like it's a big difference."
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, By Gosh, It's Langosch, and follow her on Twitter @LangoschMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.