Gaviglio shows MLB potential in stint with Cardinals

When Sam Gaviglio arrived in Jupiter, Fla. to begin his first spring training with the St. Louis Cardinals, he wasn't sure what to expect.

How much action he would see and when were variables yet to be determined as he settled in for what promised to be one of the most pressure-packed periods of his baseball life.

Three outings and 5 1/3 innings later the 2008 Ashland High graduate still is taking it day by day, but Gaviglio appears to have answered at least one question on his own: Yes, even among major leaguers, he belongs.

Pitching against a mix of current MLB players and top prospects, Gaviglio has more than held his own in recent weeks and carries a 3.38 ERA into today's game against the Atlanta Braves. The 23-year-old former first-team all-Pac-10 all-star for Oregon State has four strikeouts and two walks in three brief relief appearances. He's surrendered two runs, both earned, on seven hits.

"It was exciting to be out there early and get a chance to face some hitters," Gaviglio said.

Gaviglio was one of 18 non-roster players invited by the Cardinals to attend their spring training. St. Louis' 39 roster players are also on hand. The invitation is a positive sign that the Cardinals like what they've seen so far from the 6-foot-1 right-hander, who was 4-1 with a 2.72 ERA in 39 2/3 innings of work for the Palm Beach Cardinals, a Single-A Advanced team that competes in the Florida State League, last year.

Gaviglio arrived in Jupiter on Feb. 12 and first took the mound in the Cardinals' second spring training game, March 1 against the Miami Marlins. There was no "Wow" moment, no goose bumps. Just a jog to the bump with two out and a runner on second in the bottom of the fourth inning.

"You just gotta remember that it's just a baseball game," he said.

He induced a fly out by the first batter he faced in a major league uniform, Brian Bogusevic. Then, in the fifth, he got Avery Romero to ground out to third before facing his first gut-check. The next batter, Donovan Solano, drove a double to left. That was followed by a ground out by Alfredo Silverio and a walk by Mark Canha. With two on and two out, Gaviglio admitted it was a little surreal to look into the eyes of the next batter, Jarrod Saltalamacchia, a veteran catcher who helped the Boston Red Sox win the World Series only a few months ago.

"I watched him in the World Series, that was fresh in my mind," Gaviglio said.

Gaviglio shook off the nerves and escaped, jamming Saltalamacchia into an easy ground out to first.

"I just went off what the catcher was calling, and it worked," he said.

Four days later Gaviglio was called upon again, this time to start the top of the seventh against the Boston Red Sox. In what turned out to be his best performance of the spring Gaviglio held the Red Sox scoreless in two innings, striking out three.

His most recent outing, Sunday against the Washington Nationals, stands as Gaviglio's first hiccup. He entered the game in the bottom of the fifth and surrendered two runs on three hits in two innings. Both runs scored on a flare to right by Koyie Hill with two outs in the sixth, and Gaviglio promptly struck out the next batter he faced, Brian Goodwin, to end the inning.

"My first inning (against the Nationals) went real well," said Gaviglio, who still calls Ashland pitching coach Chuck Chacker after every outing. "I got three quick ground outs, but then I think I started trying to do too much — I started catching too much of the plate and leaving the ball up."

With 14 of their 27 games in the books, the Cardinals are about halfway through their spring training schedule, and while Gaviglio is on schedule to pitch again very soon — possibly even today — there's no guarantee that that's going to happen. In the meantime, he's getting a taste of what life will be like when and if he does make it to the big show.

So far, the experience has been a positive one. The biggest adjustment he's had to make over the last month has been the level of focus. Everybody's dialed in, Gaviglio says.

"We're doing drills and all that, and they have more expectations for themselves," he said. "They're focused on just doing things right. Usually around game time people are starting to get into their zone, but it's a loose atmosphere, fun. But then it's also really competitive once game time comes."

While the coaches have been mostly hands off, says Gaviglio, he has received some tips from a few of his spring training teammates. One of the most useful pointers came courtesy of Cardinals closer Trevor Rosenthal, who showed Gaviglio a slight alteration to his change-up grip.

It's a work on progress.

"I just need to get more comfortable with it and have better command of it," he said of his change-up. "But that's a big plus of being around major leaguers. There's a lot of knowledge to be shared. I think that's where you're going to learn the most, from the players."

So what happens after the Cardinals' last spring training game March 28? Gaviglio says he doesn't have the slightest clue, but would prefer to take the next logical step in his progression and be assigned to the Springfield Cardinals, the Cardinals' Double-A affiliate.

But the 2008 Class 5A Pitcher of the Year who led the Grizzlies to their lone state championship won't get down if that doesn't happen. After all, he's in it for the long haul.

"If not, I still have stuff to work on," he said. "I can get there later."

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