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Cards get ready for new season

June 17th, 2014 9:58 pm by Joe Avento

Cards get ready for new season

The Johnson City Cardinals are about to begin the Appalachian League season, and new manager Johnny Rodriguez says there’s no secret to his approach toward the delicate balance between developing players and winning games.

Develop the players and the winning will take care of itself.

“I don’t ever talk winning,” Rodriguez said Tuesday at Cardinal Park. “I never have even at the highest level. We will have a chance to win if we hustle, we execute the signs. That is the definition of developing — execution and hustle. If you do those two things, all of a sudden you have a chance to win.”

The Cardinals open the season Thursday when they begin a three-game series at Bluefield. The home opener is set for Sunday at 4 p.m. when Danville comes to town.

“We have a pretty strong squad,” says shortstop Oscar Mercado. “A lot of us have been together for a while, since the beginning of spring training, so we’ve got a pretty good chemistry going. I think we can win a lot of games this year and definitely play as a team and get as far as we can.”

Rodriguez isn’t talking about winning, but he still hopes his squad is in contention. In fact, should the Cardinals be fortunate enough to find themselves in a pennant race down the stretch, he says his reports back to St. Louis will be more accurate.

“I like to get to playoffs or in the running for playoffs,” he said. “The reason why is you get to know the player. That tells you who’s gonna be in St. Louis. Because the player who goes into his shell in the big moment ... In the end, I love to be in the running because it will tell you a lot.

“The guys who make the majors are never afraid. They’re the best competitors in the biggest games. That tells you a lot about a player.”

Rodriguez spent the 2009 season as Johnson City’s hitting coach. Since then, he’s had nothing but success as a manager. He managed Quad Cities for two seasons, posting the best record of all St. Louis affiliates both years and winning the Midwest League championship in 2011.

He also managed at Palm Beach in the advanced Class A Florida State League the past two years.

 “I’d have to say the last four years have been very good for me,” said Rodriguez, whose son Sean is a utility player for the Tampa Bay Rays and leads his team in home runs this season.

On a Johnson City roster filled with mostly mid- to late-round draft picks, one player stands out heading into the season. Mercado was a second-round pick in 2013 out of Tampa. He spent his first professional season in the Gulf Coast League.

“Now that I’m here, I consider myself just like everybody else so that kind of takes the pressure away from me,” Mercado said. “I’m just trying to do my best in order to help the team win and trying to be the best player I can be, be the best teammate I can be.”

Rodriguez will be glad to hear that.

“You know what the Cardinal way is?” Rodriguez said. “Your best player is your best guy in the clubhouse.

We are on the same page in scouting an development. We draft makeup guys.”

The 19-year-old Mercado hit .209 with 12 stolen bases in 42 games last year. He was the 57th pick in the draft.

“Oscar, he’s got all the tools as a defensive player, but he needs a lot of work,” Rodriguez said. “He has come a long way offensively. He’s very young.”

Rodriguez has set his pitching rotation. It’s a six-man rotation but eight guys will fill the spots in the beginning.

Landon Beck, a 25th-round pick out of Anderson (S.C.) University will get the start in the opener. He’s expected to throw about 45-50 pitches before giving way to hard-throwing Juan Perez.

Steve Farinaro, an 11th-round pick last year, will start the second game. He’ll be followed in Game 3 by Ian McKinney, a fifth-rounder last year.

Dailyn Martinez is set for Sunday’s home opener, while Jordan DeLorenzo and Josh Wirsu will both pitch on Monday. Matt Pearce, a 13th-round pick this year, is the No. 6 starter.

Many of the players on the Cards’ roster have been practicing together for 21?2 months in extended spring training. Rodriguez, who has coached at just about every level of professional baseball, broke camp with a good feeling about his team.

“It’s a good group,” he said. “I know them pretty well inside and out. It feels like I’ve had a whole season with them.

“You have to have patience and you have to be hands on. Don’t micro-manage them but teach them the professional way and what it takes. And they respect me for that because they know where I’ve been.”

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