Trimmer Westbrook is aiming to carry his weight with Cardinals

| Tuesday, Feb. 28, 2012

JUPITER, Fla. — Former NL Cy Young Award winner Chris Carpenter is on track to be the St. Louis Cardinals' opening day starter, former 20-game winner Adam Wainwright is back from reconstructive elbow surgery, Jaime Garcia is a top left-hander and underrated Kyle Lohse led the staff in victories and ERA.

Then, there's the slimmer, trimmer Jake Westbrook.

The 34-year-old sinkerballer was inconsistent last season, then virtually unused during the postseason. He shed 20 pounds at the team's urging and wants to show he can be counted upon.

"I'd be lying if I said I wasn't disappointed," Westbrook said. "If that opportunity comes about again, I want to have the year where they have confidence to throw me out there. I have a lot of motivation, especially as I'm getting older, to get back to where I'm capable of pitching."

Westbrook's 12-9 record was accompanied by a 4.66 ERA and 1.51 WHIP (walks plus hits per inning), and he was bothered by plantar fasciitis on both feet. He was left off the roster for the division series and NL championship series and was the unlikely World Series Game 6 winner after working an inning of relief in the Cardinals' wild comeback victory over the Rangers.

Two weeks with no carbohydrates melted 14 pounds, and nutrition along with an altered training regimen took care of the rest.

"It was club encouraged," manager Mike Matheny said. "He looks good. Obviously, he's lost some weight but he's also put on some muscle mass, so that's a great combination."

Westbrook, who's entering the final year of a two-year, $16 million deal, said he's down to 210 pounds for the first time in perhaps a dozen years and feeling a lot lighter on his feet. He's hoping it translates to an increase in confidence, and a better bottom line.

"If something's bothering you, you're not focusing as much as you possibly can on what you're trying to do. As I'm getting older, I want to give myself every opportunity to prolong my career, and I don't want to have any regrets that I didn't do everything possible."

The other spots are so solid that general manager John Mozeliak declared early in camp that the Cardinals out of the competition for free agent Roy Oswalt.

Carpenter was just 11-9 last year, but won 10 of his last 12 decisions after struggling with command the first two months or so. Then he was 4-0 in the postseason, and beat the Rangers on short rest in Game 7 of the World Series.

At 37, he's been setting the tone in spring training. Matheny said the opening day nod is not official but added that's the plan.

"The guy's an animal," Matheny said. "That's the guy we want people following."

Wainwright totaled 39 victories in 2009-10 and appears ready to rejoin Carpenter as twin aces right around the one-year anniversary of the operation that reduced him to cheerleader throughout 2011. Though he's had no issues and is on the same program as the rest of the pitchers, the Cardinals are wary of overloading the 6-foot-7 right-hander too soon.

Mozeliak said at the start of camp that he couldn't envision Wainwright pitching 200 innings. Matheny said Monday that Wainwright was in "uncharted territory."

Garcia was third in the NL Rookie of the Year balloting in 2010 and has won 27 games his first two seasons, flashing such promise that he earned a four-year contract last summer.

Lohse was 14-8 with a 3.39 ERA last season, finally moving past a forearm injury that led to ineffectiveness for 1.5 seasons. Then he survived rampant trade rumors over the winter, and gets the ball for the spring opener March 5 against the Marlins.

"There must not have been enough other things to talk about. Like people leaving the team," Lohse said, referring to departed Albert Pujols.

Westbrook won 15 games twice and 14 once with the Indians from 2004-06 before running into elbow woes. He estimates he throws the sinker 70 percent of the time, and if he keeps it down it compensates for a high 80s mph fastball.

"If my ball was straight I wouldn't be pitching now," he said. "I rely on that sinker, that movement. I live and die by it."

Notes: OF Allen Craig, rehabbing from offseason kneecap surgery, was cleared for light duty on Monday and did some running for the first time with a series of 90-foot jogs. Craig, one of the team's surprise postseason stars last fall, is encouraged by his progress but said it's too soon to tell if he can be ready for opening day. The original timetable estimated Craig might miss the first month. "Today was definitely a good day," Craig said. ... RHP Jordan Swagerty, a second-round draft pick last year, will rest a few days until biceps tendinitis calms down. Matheny said there's no reason to push at this point.

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