VIERA, Fla. -- Cognizant that he is still competing for a spot in the Cardinals big league bullpen, Fernando Salas departed for Arizona on Sunday, overjoyed by the opportunity to represent Mexico in the World Baseball Classic.
While interest in the 16-team tournament may be underwhelming to some American-born players, it is a source of pride for many who grew up outside of this country. Salas described the Classic as Mexico's most important baseball showcase.
"It's a big deal," Salas said. "It's different here because you have the Major Leagues, which is the wish for everyone. But in Mexico, this is very important. All Mexican players want to play in the World Baseball Classic. For us, it's really exciting, because it's an opportunity for players from the Mexican League and the Major Leagues to play together."
Salas was on Mexico's Classic roster in 2009, but did not make an appearance. Four years later, he's expected to be a critical piece in a bullpen that is headlined by Giants closer Sergio Romo.
He leaves the Cardinals, however, knowing that the Classic won't be his sole competition this month.
Though they gave Salas their blessing when he asked for permission to play, the Cardinals also made it clear to Salas that he still has to earn a spot in St. Louis' bullpen this spring.
"We'll watch it as close as we can," manager Mike Matheny said. "Obviously, we'd get a better view here, but we never want to deny these guys the opportunity to do something that they'd really like to do. It's for the good of the game, too."
A year after posting a 2.28 ERA and leading the team in saves with 24, Salas endured an up-and-down 2012. He dealt with a kidney stone problem for the first two months of the season and stayed mostly in a middle-relief role when he returned.
Salas spent the offseason throwing cutters, hopeful that the new pitch will develop into one that he is comfortable enough to use during the regular season. Salas began experimenting with the pitch last summer, but only in the bullpen.
"I'm trying it in games and it's been good," Salas said. "Every player knows you, so you need to work a little more to add to your game. It's another option for me."
Kozma, Cedeno look to fill void at shortstop
VIERA, Fla. -- With setbacks also come opportunities, and that is certainly what both Ronny Cedeno and Pete Kozma now see, given Sunday's news that Rafael Furcal has been shut down indefinitely due to inflammation in his right elbow.
With Furcal's readiness for the start of the season now in doubt, the Cardinals will spend the rest of spring evaluating what their next best option would be. Cedeno offers experience. Kozma has greater upside. General manager John Mozeliak described the situation on Sunday as "an open competition."
Both players offered similar responses when asked to assess the changing landscape of the shortstop situation.
"I don't make the decisions, so I'm going to try and do the best I can and try to get an opportunity whenever [manager] Mike [Matheny] needs me," said Cedeno, who started at third base on Sunday.
"I need to take that time to take advantage as much as I can," Kozma said. "If he puts me in the lineup, I'm definitely going to give it my best shot."
Kozma didn't make much hard contact, but still went 3-for-3 on Sunday, boosting his spring average to .450. He said that it's the defensive side that is coming along more slowly, since he's reacting to balls off the bat for the first time in months.
Cedeno, on the other hand, is more heavily invested in his swing right now. Taking a suggestion from hitting coach John Mabry, Cedeno is attempting to shorten up his swing.
"My timing is off a little bit," said Cedeno, who is 2-for-15 in Grapefruit League play. "It's getting better. That's part of Spring Training, working on what I need to get ready for the season."
Matheny dealing with ruptured disk in back
VIERA, Fla. -- Additional medical tests have determined that manager Mike Matheny's back condition is more severe than initially believed. What had been diagnosed as a bulging disk is now confirmed to be a ruptured disk, which, Matheny said, is releasing particles that are pushing against a nerve.
Matheny was in the dugout for Sunday's game, but was clearly in immense pain after sitting on a bus for about two hours while the team traveled north from Jupiter, Fla. He is experiencing numbness and pain on his right side.
"I've had problems for a while, a long time off and on," Matheny said on Sunday, before having to cut off a session with reporters so he could try to walk off some discomfort. "I've been on a program to strengthen it. But something set it off and sent it in a bad direction. I don't know what it was."
Matheny is still scheduled to have an epidural shot on Monday. If that doesn't alleviate the pain, Matheny said he would have to consider surgery. He is providing some information to physicians back in St. Louis to seek additional opinions on his options.
Matheny was unable to manage on Friday due to discomfort from this issue and a bout of food poisoning. His condition worsened after managing on Saturday.
• On a day when he had to battle windy and cold conditions, Jaime Garcia allowed two earned runs, five hits and one walk against the Nationals in his first three-inning start of the spring. Garcia threw 39 of his 63 pitches for strikes. Both of his spring starts have come on the road.
"It's one of those things where this year, just to be here and be healthy, that's all I can ask for," Garcia said. "I don't really care about where I'm pitching next, as long as I'm going in the right direction. I'm at the point right now where I'm just going to compete and go out there with the positive mentality, just like I did when I came to camp. "
• Two of the Cardinals' recent high Draft picks -- James Ramsey (first round, 2012) and C.J. McElroy (third round, 2011) -- made their Grapefruit League debuts on Sunday. The Cardinals plucked both players out of early Minor League camp to fill out Sunday's roster.
Ramsey reached base in both of his plate appearances and scored one run. McElroy contributed a pair of RBI singles and also scored once.
"I think there's some excitement down there [in the Minors]," manager Mike Matheny said. "It's fun to get those guys in."
• Cedeno made his first spring start at third base, a position he hasn't played all that often. In eight Major League seasons, Cedeno has made only five starts at third. His work this spring, while focused at shortstop, will continue to include time at second and third base.
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.