JUPITER, Fla. -- The window of opportunity for Oscar Taveras to play his way onto the Opening Day roster appears to have closed after his latest setback with a hamstring injury.
Taveras arrived in Florida a longshot to leave as a member of the 25-man roster. Those chances slimmed further when he had to sit out the first week of Grapefruit League play while trying to convince the Cardinals that he trusted the stability of his surgically repaired right ankle.
Now a tight right hamstring has kept him off the field since he took three at-bats on Saturday.
"It's not possible without him being healthy," manager Mike Matheny said when asked about Taveras still being considered for a Major League roster spot. "He needed to come in and have everything go right in order for that to be a possibility. It's definitely something that's holding him up.
"We kept saying that we needed to see him healthy before we could make any determination. We say the same thing right now. We just thought we had crossed that hurdle and hopefully were where we could just watch him play on a consistent basis. Now we're held up again."
Matheny did not project when the Cardinals expect Taveras to receive the clearance necessary to play again. It does not appear that will come soon, however, as Taveras ran at -- in Matheny's estimate -- only 50 percent intensity during workouts on Monday. The Cardinals had challenged him to try to push to about 75 percent.
"I think he's a little tentative now," Matheny said. "Guys who have had injuries that haven't healed up right, they typically are a little more hesitant to push it."
Medical tests have shown Taveras' strength to be OK, but the Cardinals do not want to push him further than he is comfortable. When Taveras sprained his ankle last May, there was some speculation that he could have returned earlier than he did had he not been so hesitant. The Cardinals eventually pushed him before later determining that the injury was severe enough to require surgery.
The Cardinals, Matheny said, have been pleased with Taveras' work ethic and effort this spring.
"There has been a lot of work to make sure he's getting all the strength and doing all the running," Matheny said. "It's not like he came out on the field without being prepared. We had a very rigorous set of things we needed to get accomplished and how to go about it, and something just didn't click right in the game the other day."
Still achy, Wainwright solid against Mets
JUPITER, Fla. -- Still bothered by a sore throat following a recent bout of strep throat, Adam Wainwright stayed on schedule to pitch the season opener by throwing 3 1/3 innings in Tuesday's 9-8 loss to the Mets.
Admittedly achy but no longer dealing with the fever that led the Cardinals to send him home early in recent days, Wainwright threw 52 pitches in his second of what will be five spring starts.
"I wanted to stay on my schedule because I'm lined up [for Opening Day]," Wainwright said, noting that the only reason the illness would have kept him off the mound would have been if the club believed he was contagious. "I think it's important for me to make my starts so I'm ready for Opening Day. Four [starts] is probably enough. Five is for sure enough."
Confident that his trademark curveball will be sharp by the time he faces the Reds on March 31, Wainwright has spent much of his time this spring working on other pitches. He fell behind Josh Satin in the second inning with his curveball and eventually served up a homer, the only run he allowed.
Though he ended his outing by walking Satin on another curveball way outside the strike zone, he knows the feel of the pitch will come over his final three starts.
"I've honed in so much on my sinker, fastball, changeup, cutter combo because the other one, I feel like that's my strength," he said. "I want to keep it a strength, but I need to get the other ones to where that is. I've been working hard on my other stuff. I have plenty of time to get my breaking ball in there and start throwing that for strikes."
The walk to Satin was the first one Wainwright has issued all spring. He plans to enter the season with the same goal he had last season -- making more starts than he issues walks. He just missed the achievement in 2013, as he started 34 games and walked 35 batters in 241 2/3 innings.
The 35 walks were the fewest he has given up in any full season as a starter.
"I think it's so important," he said. "When I'm attacking hitters, I'm at my best. When I put them on the defensive early on, that's what I want to do."
Motte ramps up intensity of throwing session
JUPITER, Fla. -- On Monday, Jason Motte threw a bullpen session at his highest intensity yet, putting him on the verge of being cleared for the next step in his rehab process -- facing hitters in batting practice.
"Today was a good day," Motte said. "I felt like it was a little easier to get to that [higher intensity] point today, whereas last time I was still trying to feel it out. I feel good. We'll see what the next step is, and I'll see how I feel tomorrow, and we'll go from there."
Motte has been throwing to a crouching catcher for about three weeks, and the Cardinals have intentionally kept his throwing program fluid so that they could improvise depending upon how he feels. To this point there have been no significant setbacks.
"I think he's progressing well and he's almost at a higher velocity, higher intensity each time out," manager Mike Matheny said.
The Cardinals haven't ruled out getting Motte work in a spring game if he is able to pass every other checkpoint before the team heads north. He'd need to throw batting practice two (or possibly more) times before a Grapefruit League relief appearance would even be considered. The Cardinals could choose to keep him out of Major League Spring Training games so that they have the flexibility to backdate a stint on the disabled list, if desired. He'd still be able to appear in Minor League contests.
Having Motte face hitters will give everyone a better idea of how long he will be sidelined.
"I think when we do get to hitters, there will be that extra ramping it up because it's just something that happens naturally," said Motte, who underwent elbow surgery in May 2013. "It's hard for me to go 100 percent in a bullpen. There's another level of adrenaline, and it cranks up a little bit when a batter gets in there."
Matheny challenges, but call stands
JUPITER, Fla. -- Manager Mike Matheny made his third challenge of the spring on Tuesday, and for the third time watched as the umpiring crew ruled that the call on the field would stand.
This time, however, he believes he was right.
The play in question happened in the ninth inning, when, in a one-run game with no outs and runners on first and second, Kolten Wong tried to lay down a sacrifice bunt. Mets pitcher Miguel Socolovich made the play and threw to third baseman Zach Lutz. It was a bang-bang play, as Lutz received the ball and Randal Grichuk slid into third. The umpire, Mark Ripperger, ruled Grichuk out.
That's when Matheny practiced his process.
He turned to bench coach Mike Aldrete and told him what he wanted challenged. Aldrete used a walkie-talkie to get in touch with the video coordinator, who within 10 to 13 seconds (Matheny's estimation) relayed that the Cardinals should use the challenge.
The caveat was that the umpires did not have access to the same video feeds the Cardinals did. As a result, the call was not overturned.
"I still stand behind what [my staff] saw," Matheny said. "Once the season starts, everyone has the same technology. Right now everybody is just feeling their way through it. Today was a day for us to actually see the actual physical system where you could go forward and stop. Why they were different, I'm not exactly sure. "
During the season an umpire will be reviewing calls from the Major League Baseball Advanced Media headquarters in New York. They will have the same video feeds provided to all the clubs. Right now the umpires are simply watching video in a truck at each ballpark.
Although a change in call could have loomed largely in the outcome -- the Cardinals ended up not scoring and went on to lose, 9-8 -- Matheny was pleased to see the procedure go so smoothly from his end.
The Cardinals will get to use the replay system in a few other select spring games.
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.