Memphis, Tenn. -- One of several players who entered spring in a competitive situation, former first-round Draft pick Kolten Wong went 0-for-10 to start the spring, but quickly settled in, finishing with a .375 average, two home runs and 9 RBIs to claim the starting second-base job as Mark Ellis struggled with knee problems.
"Just needed more than 10 at-bats," Wong said in his first trip back to Memphis since being called up late last season. "Timing is everything with me, and I didn't have it at first. But finally I started to understand, slowed down my timing and got my foot down a bit more on my swing.
Wong had a fast start when he arrived in the Majors, but struggled through the postseason. He did not mind competing for the job this spring.
"It's healthy competition. You're always helping the guy you compete with, because in the end, you're both playing for the same team."
He was happy about the Cardinals' purchase of the Redbirds.
"[AutoZone Park] was an amazing place to play with great fans who came out," Wong said. "It's an awesome experience, and it's a good thing that the [parent] team will be taking care of this field and this for years to come."
Butler wins 'pen spot; Aardsma, five others cut
MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- In the last 10 days, the Cardinals fiddled with Keith Butler's fastball mechanics, but after Friday night's rainout of the scheduled Cardinals-Memphis Redbirds exhibition game, Butler was told he had earned the final spot in the St. Louis bullpen.
The Cardinals optioned Jorge Rondon, who had pitched 9 1/3 scoreless innings this spring, to Triple-A Memphis, and assigned to Memphis pitchers Scott McGregor and veteran David Aardsma, signed to a Minor League deal earlier this week. Butler pitched in 16 games with the Cardinals last year (0-0, 4.05 ERA), and manager Mike Matheny said "that definitely played into it."
Matheny said Butler is "an arm when we need it, available to go multiple innings, which helps, and can get lefties out with his slider and changeup."
Butler, a 24th-round Draft pick in 2009, had a couple of rough outings in the spring. Ten days ago, he was approached about lowering his arm slot. He gave up one run in his last three outings, and on Thursday came in to strike out Marlins slugger Giancarlo Stanton in the Cardinals' Grapefruit League finale.
"That was a tough at-bat to come in, but he's shown some pretty good stuff after [the change] and has better command of the strike zone, which is a plus for him,"
Butler said when the suggestion was made, "they told me we'd try it in a bullpen and then get me in a game. I thought that was going to be it for my chances for making this team, but I started keeping the ball low in the strike zone right away."
The other jolt came as he arrived early for work this week to find Aardsma, who was signed after being cut by the Cleveland Indians. "I thought 'Whoa,' and you think about that," Butler said. "But all I could do is not think about it and keep working."
Aardsma, who gave up just two earned runs in six outings with the Tribe, was hit for three runs by the Marlins Thursday, and knew that a detour to Memphis was a real possibility.
"I knew that going in, but I also know this is a good opportunity if I just keep pitching like I was pitching," said the 32-year-old, who posted a 4.31 ERA in 43 appearances with the Mets last season.
"I know David can pitch better than that, and this gives him the time to work with the Memphis team to show that," said Matheny, who caught Aardsma when both were with the Giants.
Also sent down to Memphis were outfielder Stephen Piscotty, who hit .342 in the the spring, infielder Scott Moore and catcher Ed Easley. The Cardinals left Memphis for Cincinnati with 26 players, including last year's starting shortstop Pete Kozma, believed to be the odd man out with the offseason acquisitions of Jhonny Peralta and Mark Ellis.
"Ellis' knee still doesn't feel quite right, so we're going to make that call after Sunday's workout [in Cincinnati]," Matheny said. "He's had all the looks [from doctors], and what he needs is treatment and trying to get where it feels right and doesn't get in his way from doing what he needs to do."
Mozeliak excited about acquisition of Redbirds
Memphis, Tenn. -- A little bit of disappointment capped the day for Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak. The Cards formally announced their purchase of the Redbirds and long-term lease of AutoZone Park on Friday, but the Cardinals-Redbirds exhibition game was washed out by rain.
"It was exciting to finally get the keys to the building, and it would have been special to have this game, had we better luck with the weather," Mozeliak said.
During presentations to city officials in the last year, the Cardinals outlined several improvements they planned to make to the park.
"Obviously, the improvements will have to wait until the end of this season, but one of our goals is to get much of the upgrades in place for 2015," said Mozeliak. "Once the season starts, we may look to see what makes the most sense for this year and future years.
"I've always been a big fan of this ballpark and Minor League baseball in Memphis. ... I think it's about putting a product out there that we can be proud of and the city of Memphis can be proud of and embrace."
Top prospect Taveras ready for Redbirds game action
Memphis, Tenn. -- Oscar Taveras was in the Memphis lineup as the designated hitter before the rainout, but Redbirds manager Ron "Pop" Warner said "he's healthy and good to go."
Taveras, coming off ankle surgery and dealing with hamstring issues during Spring Training, was sent down early, while Stephen Piscotty and newly acquired Randal Grichuk had solid spring showings with the big league club.
"We know Oscar is a special talent, but he needs to play, show us he can stay healthy, and on the field, work on defense and have the kind of at-bats he needs to improve," said Cardinals manager Mike Matheny of Taveras, ranked the No. 3 prospect in the Majors and the No. 1 prospect in the Cardinals' organization by MLB.com.
"The fans in Memphis will see some impressive outfielders. We got an extended look at what Grichuk can do, and Piscotty might have made the biggest impression this spring among the young guys … We hope we won't, but if we need to [make a callup], we're going to pick the guy most prepared, not necessarily the one with the most articles written about him," said Matheny.
But Matheny also held back in talking about the new-found outfield depth in the Cardinals' system: "Last year, I was talking about all the depth we had on the mound, and we wound up using every arm we had in the organization," he said. "I'm not talking about depth anywhere again."
• The Cardinals announced a refund/exchange policy for those who bought seats to Friday's washed-out exhibition game, and said they would schedule an exhibition in Memphis before the 2015 season. Fans can either request a refund or a voucher for a 2014 Cardinals game at Busch Stadium and a credit for a 2014 Redbirds ticket equal to the value of the exhibition. Full details are available at memphisredbirds.com.
• Twenty-two of the 28 players on the Cardinal roster (including soon-to-be-DL'd pitchers Jaime Garcia and Jason Motte) came through Memphis on their way to Busch Stadium. Most were managed by Cardinals first-base coach Chris Maloney, who managed the Redbirds from 2007-11.
"It's gratifying to help so many young guys to the big leagues, and then to get the chance to join them is something," said Maloney, who managed 17 seasons in the St. Louis system. "[Being in the Majors] is everything I thought it would be, but I had a lot of good memories in this place."
Pete Wickham is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.