MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) -- The scheduled exhibition game between the St. Louis Cardinals and their Triple-A Memphis farm club was rained out Friday night.
A near-capacity crowd of 13,000 had been expected at AutoZone Park in Memphis for what would have been the Cardinals' first game there since 2009. The team did take batting practice, and players such as outfielder Matt Holliday and infielder Matt Carpenter stopped on the dugout steps to sign autographs for fans.
The grounds crew placed the tarp on the field about 40 minutes before the scheduled start, and rain began falling soon afterward. Thunder and lightning followed and there was standing water on the warning track when the game was canceled.
Joe Kelly, who was 10-5 with a 2.69 ERA last season, had been scheduled to start for St. Louis.
The Cardinals announced they will schedule an exhibition game against the Memphis Redbirds at AutoZone Park next season.
The Cardinals sent down three relievers to Memphis, making it a short trip for them. The players carried their St. Louis equipment bags from the visitors' clubhouse around a corner and down a hallway past the indoor batting cages to the Triple-A team's clubhouse.
Right-hander Keith Butler, who had a 4.05 ERA in 16 appearances last season with the Cardinals, won the last bullpen job with the big league club. Right-handers David Aardsma, Scott McGregor and Jorge Rondon were told they will start the season in Memphis.
Rondon had a 0.00 ERA in nine spring training appearances. Butler's ERA in the spring was 8.38. Rondon had a 3.06 ERA in 51 relief appearances for Memphis last season.
Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said being more familiar with Butler "definitely played into" the decision to keep him, adding, "We know he can go multiple innings."
The Cardinals signed the veteran Aardsma to a minor league deal after Cleveland released him. He struggled with his control in two spring training appearances.
"We knew we had an agreement that would allow him to pitch with Memphis so we could see how he's throwing the ball," Matheny said.
The Cardinals were leaving Memphis on Friday night for Cincinnati, where they open the season Monday afternoon. They were taking infielder Pete Kozma along as a 26th man while they further evaluate infielder Mark Ellis' sore knee.
Kelly threw 80 pitches in a bullpen session and drew rave reviews from fellow starter Adam Wainwright.
"He just had some of the best stuff I'd seen all spring," Wainwright said.
"Maybe it was because it was indoors, but it was pretty good stuff," he said.
Kelly is slated to start in Pittsburgh on April 5.
Besides ending the bullpen derby, the Cardinals sent outfielders Stephen Piscotty and Joey Butler down to Memphis, as well as infielder Xavier Scruggs.
Piscotty figures to start in the outfield with highly touted Oscar Taveras and Randal Grichuk.
"It's a talented group," general manager John Mozeliak said. "I think all of them will get opportunities."
BETTER SAFE THAN SORRY
That was the consensus about not playing on a field that had been saturated with rain.
"I was going to be really concerned," Matheny said. "To play our guys on a field that to start with was in pretty rough shape, that's a bad recipe to get to opening day."
Kelly was happy not to have to try pitching on a slippery mound.
"It's not just that you could turn an ankle," he said. "You can be sliding around and mess up your mechanics or your arm slot and get hurt."
CLOSING THE DEAL
Also on Friday, the Cardinals finalized the purchase of their Triple-A affiliate for $15 million. The agreement for the Cardinals to buy the Memphis Redbirds and for the city of Memphis to purchase the stadium had been worked out several months ago after years of off-and-on negotiations. AutoZone Park opened in 2000.
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