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St. Louis Cardinals outfielder Shane Robinson talks with other players around the batting cages at the Cardinals spring training complex at Roger Dean Stadium in Jupiter, Fla. on Friday, Feb. 21, 2014. (David Carson/St. Louis Post-Dispatch/MCT)

Cardinals come prepared for expanded replay

JUPITER, Fla. -- As the St. Louis Cardinals pondered and practiced last season the various ways expanded video replay could be implemented for this season, there was a possibility that never felt quite right to manager Mike Matheny as he readied for it.

He had a feel for when to dispute a call.

He had a sense of who on his staff would be involved.

There was just no way to rehearse the etiquette of how to (assertively, gracefully) pitch a flag or a beanbag or whatever projectile baseball assigned on the field to request a replay.

"There were thoughts of football stuff, where you have to come out of the dugout throwing things," Matheny said "We were planning for that. I was very happy to hear that's not going to be the case."

Late last week the Cardinals' brass met with officials from Major League Baseball, including Joe Torre and Tony La Russa, to go through the mechanics of the game's forthcoming replay rule. Torre and La Russa are touring sites in Florida and Arizona to meet with teams, answer questions and deliver a presentation on the intricacies of the new rule and how teams can prepare to use it. The Cardinals have been for months.

Throughout last season, Matheny and his staff would approach games as if they had expanded replay. They expedited ways for information to get from the video room to dugout. They studied when in a game to use their limited challenges. They discussed how Matheny would approach the umpires to buy time for a video room review before a challenge.

"Basically, realizing that this was coming, we started talking about it even though we didn't know the timing of it," Matheny said. "Maybe you had to get right out there or else you lose the opportunity to do it. ... I would give it away sometimes that I would (challenge) because I'd already be gone and out there arguing. You had to trust your eyes. I don't go out a lot. I haven't in the past.

"I learned I may have to go out more now."

The Cardinals begin Grapefruit League play Friday against the Miami Marlins, and Matheny's staff will use the exhibition games to continue workshopping replay use. Many of the Cardinals' games will be televised, but even during the ones that aren't the Cardinals want to find a way to exchange information from video room to dugout and manager. Major League Baseball will allow teams to use walkie-talkies or some other device during spring training games because the ballparks won't be wired like the big-league stadiums will be.

Matheny said he'll talk with opposing managers and the umpires about the Cardinals' intentions to hold these dress rehearsals.

"It might slow up things a little bit, but we need to work on this," Matheny said. "There are a lot of little things that need to go into it for this thing to work, while trying to keep in mind this whole time that we want to get (the call) right, but we don't want to be a rain delay. We don't want this to take forever. If there is a way to do it efficiently we're going to do it."

Baseball's expanded replay rule will have several basic features:

-- Managers will begin every game with one challenge, and it can be used in the first six innings. A successful challenge earns the manager a second challenge for the first six innings, but no manager will receive a third challenge. In the seventh and later, umpires will decide when a call needs to be challenged.

-- A member of the video staff will be allowed to convey his opinion of the play to the dugout. The Cardinals do not intend to hire a new person for this role, using instead a member of the current video staff, though it won't be the same person each game.

-- Instead of the ways the Cardinals practiced communicating between dugout and video room last season, all teams will have a phone connecting the dugout to video room.

"They've streamlined it themselves," bench coach Mike Aldrete said.

-- New software will be installed at each ballpark to assure that each team has the same access to the same video of the game. If there are six cameras being used at that ballpark, both teams will have six feeds. If it's 12, each team gets 12.

"Not every ballpark is created equally," general manager John Mozeliak said. "It cannot be the home team gets 12 and the visitors have six."

-- There are some plays, like grounders skipping over third or first, that cannot be challenged. The "neighborhood play" -- where a middle infielder is in the neighborhood of second base on a double play turn, using the proximity as protection -- can be challenged if a throw is errant, but it will remain the judgment of the umpire.

"It will be interesting to see how that goes," said Cardinals second baseman Mark Ellis. "You could probably challenge every single 'neighborhood play' that happens in a big-league game. I understand that it's not going to be the case. Everybody is going to have a feeling-out process."

For Matheny, that includes how he positions himself when arguing with the ump.

Aldrete will be what Matheny called "the conduit" between him and the video room. When he goes out to argue a disputed call, Matheny may not know if it will be an official challenge, so he'll have to position himself where he can see the dugout while talking to the umpire. Aldrete then can remove his hat if the video room says he should challenge or give thumbs up or thumbs down. If the video room says the call was right, Matheny can shift from arguing to complimenting the umpire and return without using a challenge.

"You'd think the technology we have now you'd know pretty quickly if it is worth the risk," left fielder Matt Holliday said. "The manager will have a feel for the game, whether it's a turning point and that's the time to use it. If it's early in the game and you only have so much you have to play feel a lot."

The trick will be the uncertain replay -- the shrug from the video room.

If it's a game-changing play it could be worth the challenge just in case.

"There is going to be that middle of the road, where it's kind of inconclusive," Aldrete said. "But we might be in a situation where you have to give it a try. You have to try. Maybe (the replay officials) can come up with something conclusive we can't."

When to challenge will be Matheny's call. "On me," he said. "This is coming down on me."

He met with the video staff this past winter to discuss what he will be looking for and what he wants to hear from them on potential challenges. Several players suggested that with clear lines of communication and a nimble video staff a team could develop an edge in baseball's new wrinkle, the challenge. Matheny doubts that. Any ideas that replay can be "used as an element of strategy is going to be completely wiped out by the league."

Keen to keep the human element in the game, La Russa and others have described how limiting challenges means they won't just be technological. They will require instinct.

That means even without a flag to throw, managers still have to practice their delivery.

"Anytime you start something like this there are going to be speed bumps," Mozeliak said. "Nobody is claiming it's iron-clad perfect. But I think it's pretty darn good."

(c)2014 St. Louis Post-Dispatch

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Distributed by MCT Information Services

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CARDINALS


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