NLCS Gm1: Choate has flawless relief appearance

ST. LOUIS -- When Randy Choate signed with the Cardinals before the 2013 season, his role was perceived to be that of a left-handed specialist.

And for the most part last season, that is exactly what Choate was. The left-hander went an inning or more in just 15 of his 73 regular and postseason appearances.

So far, at least, the role has expanded this season. Choate, who entered Friday with a 3.00 ERA, has gone an entire inning in three of his four appearances in 2014. That means throwing to both left-handed and right-handed batters.

"As a competitor you like to go out there and compete," Choate said. "I've always believed in my ability to get both left-handed and right-handed batters out, but obviously I've been able to have more success overall against left-handers. But if they are going to put me out there against right-handers, I'm going to do all I can to get them out."

The composition of the bullpen has made the higher workload a necessity.

Pat Neshek's arrival to the Cardinals as a right-handed specialist created the need for more outs from the bullpen. Meanwhile, Kevin Siegrist's emergence as another relief option from the left side has allowed manager Mike Matheny to use Choate in different roles.

"He's getting outs, so we need him to get more than just one hitter out," Matheny said. "We can't kill the rest of our bullpen, so he's doing a nice job of getting the right-handers out in between the lefties."

Batters from both sides are hitting just .100 off of Choate in 2014.

"I've been able to mix my slider in a lot more than I used to," Choate said. "I have a lot more confidence throwing that against right-handers, which I didn't have before."

Eligible to come off DL, Ellis' status still uncertain

Ellis, Matheny discuss infielder's role with Cards

ST. LOUIS -- Cardinals infielder Mark Ellis (patella tendinitis) took another step forward to being activated off of the disabled list on Friday.

Ellis reported no problems with his knee after a strenuous pregame workout before the team hosted the Cubs on Friday night. Even though the workout went well, there is still no decision on Ellis, who was eligible to come off the DL on Friday.

"I should be really close," Ellis said. "I should be any day now. I just have to get with the trainers and [manager]Mike [Matheny] and see what we want to do."

Matheny said Ellis' status will depend on how his body responds in the next few days. The team feels no need to rush Ellis back, especially with rookie Kolten Wong (.276 average) off to a strong start at second.

"He's got to be 100 percent, or else we would have done it on Opening Day," Matheny said. "He was good enough to play then and play the infield, but not to his max potential as far as how he could move. It just didn't make sense to do that at the time and we're just going to keep trying to get him to that spot where he has no limitations."

Ellis signed with the Cardinals as a free agent in the offseason, but has yet to see the field in the regular season because of the injury that flared up late in Spring Training.

It isn't clear whether Ellis, a 12-year veteran, will need a Minor League rehab assignment once activated. The prospect isn't exactly appealing to Ellis.

"Minor League rehabs are the worst," Ellis said. "I think if you ask any big league player, it might be necessary, but you try to avoid them at all cost if you don't have to go. It's not something that you love doing, but at the same time you want to be able to help the team the best you can as soon as you step out there. We'll talk about it and see what's best."

Worth noting

Allen Craig, who is mired in a 3-for-31 slump to start the season, will bat in the No. 6 spot instead of his customary cleanup role. Craig will hit in front of Jhonny Peralta, who is also slumping with a .069 average.

"I never want any group of guys who aren't hitting, but you're going to have those," Matheny said. "The thing is with both of those guys, no one's going to take a deep breath and start pitching around one just because they know the danger that both of them have every time they walk into the box. They are one swing away from getting really locked in.

"These are guys who just aren't flash-in-the-pan guys. They are guys who have shown they can do it at this level and they will do it. It's just a matter of when. It's just a matter of getting that good consistent feel at the plate that they can repeat."

Jason Motte threw a simulated game in extended spring training in Jupiter, Fla., on Friday. Though Matheny told reporters that he hadn't gotten a report on the outing before Friday's game against the Cubs, Motte tweeted that he threw 18 pitches and that it went well.

• The Cardinals begin a stretch of 20 games in 20 days with the series opener against the Cubs on Friday night. The early workload seems to benefit the team, as the Cardinals own the NL's best record (207-145, .588) in March/April games since 2000.

• Triple-A Memphis ripped Omaha, 10-1, on Thursday. Stephen Piscotty went 3-for-5 and drove home three runs, and Joey Butler and Xavier Scruggs each homered.

Randal Grichuk and Oscar Taveras each had three hits and combined to score five runs.
Starter Tim Cooney improved to 2-0 with a 0.73 ERA and David Aardsma and Lee Stoppelman combined to pitch 2 2/3 innings of scoreless relief.