Can Alex Reyes handle a late-inning role out of the bullpen over the final two months of the season?
The better question is whether the Cardinals can afford to not find out.
Kevin Siegrist shifted to the primary setup role when Trevor Rosenthal lost his job as closer in mid-July. Now Siegrist is reportedly dealing with dead arm since returning from the disabled list last month and is unlikely to be available in Houston Tuesday and Wednesday.
Rosenthal, meanwhile, has been on the disabled list since July 26 and even when he’s activated, there’s no guarantee his command will follow him off the DL.
Since he was acquired from the White Sox at the trade deadline, Zach Duke has allowed five hits and one run over 5.2 innings pitched, plus owns a strikeout-to-walk rate of seven-to-five since joining the Cards.
Jonathan Broxton has consistently proven that he cannot be trusted in high-leverage situations.
Seth Maness has been excellent over his last 11 appearances, posting a 0.68 ERA, a 2.47 fielding independent percentage, and a 3.47 expected fielding independent percentage. Those numbers are a far cry from where he was at the start of the season when he missed a month of action with inflammation in his pitching elbow.
Matt Bowman, meanwhile, has quietly been the Cards’ best reliever not named Seung-Hwan Oh. He’s earned an expanded role if Mike Matheny chooses to give him one thanks to his consistency all year. Credit the Cards’ scouting staff for seeing something in the former Rule 5 pick despite posting over a 5.00 ERA with the Mets’ Class AAA squad last season.
There’s an argument to be made that the Cards should lean on veterans like Duke and Maness, plus thrust Bowman into higher-leverage situations given how valuable he’s been this season. That argument is valid, prudent even.
That said, Maness is better used as needed and not as a primary setup pitcher. Bowman, while deserving of a bigger role, is also as big a wildcard as Reyes in high-leverage situations. Can Bowman handle bigger moments late in games? Maybe, but until he proves it, nobody knows for sure.
Duke was one of the primary setup pitchers for the White Sox and was the only player acquired by John Mozeliak at the deadline. If anyone should assume the main setup role with Siegrist out, the responsibility should fall on Duke.
But does Duke have a four-seamer that reaches 101 miles per hour? Does his curveball rise to eye level for the batter and drop sharply into the strike zone? Does he have a changeup he can throw between 93 and 88 mph and completely fool hitters loading up for his fastball?
Reyes had trouble in the minors with his command. He’s only pitched four big-league innings and even though he’s off to a fantastic start, he will suffer ups and downs.
But with Siegrist’s health up in the air, the Cards might as well go down swinging. Reyes is young but he’s an elite talent that will only grow more comfortable as his innings rise.
Surely the Cards didn’t expect Reyes would be viewed as one of the key bridges between their starters and Oh when they called him up from Memphis a few weeks ago. But injuries continue to mount, there’s plenty of uncertainty surrounding key members of the bullpen, and the wild card race only grows murkier by the day.
The Cards may not have expected to use Reyes in high-leverage situations.
They also might not have a choice given the other options.