One of the biggest questions the Cardinals need to try to answer in spring training is if Adam Wainwright's right elbow is OK. (File)

By Rob Rains

The Cardinals’ quest to reach the NL Championship Series for a fifth consecutive year begins next week in Florida. Positive answers to these 10 questions over the next six weeks would provide a good start toward that goal:

1. Is Adam Wainwright’s elbow OK?

By the end of last season Wainwright was in so much pain he had to have his wife open jar lids for him. A minor surgical procedure following the NLCS hopefully corrected the problem. The Cardinals will attempt to limit Wainwright’s innings this spring because of his heavy workload the last two years, but he still will need to pitch enough to see how his elbow responds.

2. How is Michael Wacha’s shoulder?

Wacha, after bursting onto the scene in the 2013 playoffs, had a disappointing year in 2014 because of an unusual injury, a stress reaction behind his right shoulder which forced him to miss much of the year. He did not have surgery, but doctors believe an exercise program and rest should correct the problem. Like Wainwright, however, Wacha really won’t know how he feels until he gets on the mound and pitches in a competitive environment.

3. Is Carlos Martinez ready to be a full-time member of the starting rotation?

There was a great deal of speculation throughout the winter that the Cardinals would trade for a veteran pitcher, such as Cole Hamels, or go after one of the top free agents. Instead, it appears they will make every effort to allow Martinez to win the open spot in the rotation created by trading Shelby Miller to the Braves. If Wainwright and Wacha were guaranteed to be 100 percent healthy, this move likely would not be questioned. If anything happens to either of those starters, however, the pressure on Martinez will be dramatically increased. Martinez also has the added burden of dedicating this season to his close friend and teammate, Oscar Taveras, who was killed in a car accident last October in the Dominican Republic. How he responds to that tragedy is another unanswered question.

4. Is Jason Heyward primed for a bounce-back season?


The Cardinals traded for Heyward to play right field following Taveras’ death. They believe he will be much more productive hitting somewhere other than the leadoff spot, as he had to do with the Braves last season. Most likely, he will hit second, sandwiched between Matt Carpenter and Matt Hollliday. The Cardinals hope he can come close to matching his 2012 production – 27 homers, 82 RBI and a .269 average. Doing that also would go a long way in helping Heyward – a free agent to be at the end of the season – secure a lucrative long-term contract, whether it is from the Cardinals or somebody else.

5. Can Matt Adams improve his performance against left-handed pitching?

In 121 at-bats against left-handers last year, Adams hit just .190 with three home runs. That came after he hit .231 in 52 at-bats against lefties in 2013. Adams is one of the few hitters in the Cardinals lineup who could produce 25 or more homers, but likely won’t be able to reach that level if he falls into a straight platoon with free agent signee Mark Reynolds. Even if he does not hit for as much power against left-handers, Adams needs to be able to raise his average closer to the .318 mark he produced against right-handers last year.

6. Can Kevin Siegrist regain the form he had as a rookie in 2013?


Siegrist battled through a variety of arm injuries last season, affecting the roles of the other relievers in the Cardinals’ bullpen. Nearly unhittable in 2013 – left-handers hit .118 against him and right-handers .138 – the injuries limited Siegrist’s velocity and his effectiveness last year. The Cardinals have five left-handed relievers on their roster, not counting rookie Marco Gonzales, who was used as a reliever in the playoffs last year. If Siegrist is healthy, that could free up some of the other left-handers as possible trade candidates before the end of the spring.

7. Can Trevor Rosenthal find a way to be more efficient, particularly against the first hitter he faces?

Rosenthal converted 45 of 51 save opportunities last year, despite rarely working a 1-2-3 inning. He allowed 103 baserunners in 70 1/3 innings, walking 42, and gave up a hit or walk to 28 of the 72 batters he faced when he first came into a game. The inefficiency forced him to throw many more pitches than normal for a closer. The Cardinals hope he can pitch ahead in the count much more often this season, reducing the walks and the number of pitches he has to throw in a game.

8. Can Jon Jay match his success from last season?

Jay came to spring training a year ago in a battle with Peter Bourjos for the center field job and gradually earned the bulk of the playing time as the season progressed and finished with a .303 average. He was the Cardinals best hitter in the playoffs, going 14-of-29. Now the recipient of a two-year contract and entrenched as the starter in center, Jay needs to prove that he can come close to matching last year’s numbers.

9. Will Carlos Villanueva make the team, and what role will he fill?


Signing Villanueva was an insurance plan in case Wainwright or Wacha develop more injury-related problems or Martinez struggles. Ideally, the Cardinals see Villanueva as a long man in their bullpen, being able to make an occasional start but not being a full-time starter. Villanueva has done both in his career, but has been much more effective as a reliever. In only 14 1/3 more innings out of the 863 career innings he has pitched in the majors, Villanueva has a 3.55 ERA as a reliever compared to a 5.00 ERA as a starter.

10. Who will win the backup infielder job?

This job opened up when the Cardinals did not offer a contract to Daniel Descalso. There appear to be four possibilities going into the spring – holdover candidates Pete Kozma and Greg Garcia and newcomers Dean Anna, signed as a free agent, and Ty Kelly, obtained in a trade from Seattle. Kelly has the advantage of being a switch-hitter. One point that could become a factor in the decision is that Kozma is out of options.

Follow Rob Rains on Twitter @RobRains