The Cardinal bullpen reached a danger zone last weekend in Florida when, after Adam Wainwright pitched seven innings in New York, relievers had to get 12 outs on Friday, 12 on Saturday, 11 on Sunday and 12 on Monday. Forcing your bullpen to deliver that many innings and get that many outs is not a recipe for success.
In their last three starts, the Cardinal starters have rebounded. Wainwright gave them seven innings again on Tuesday, Jake Westbrook went seven on Wednesday and Lance Lynn gave the Redbirds six on Thursday. It would seem that the ship has been righted, and even now the Cardinal bullpen has pitched the third-fewest innings in the National League. Only the Cubs and Phillies bullpens have fewer innings than the Cards.
I found it interesting when I asked Mike Matheny if the bullpen had been settled down that he doesn’t think it has. Matheny and pitching coach Derek Lilliquist have a great handle on their pitchers, and with so many kids, he said the Cards have to be really careful how they’re used. Trevor Rosenthal, Seth Maness, Joe Kelly, Keith Butler and lefty Kevin Siegrist are all really young, and Matheny wants to protect them.
Matheny pointed out that Siegrist had never pitched in back-to-back games before he reached the major leagues. None of those kids has pitched as many games as they’re on pace to pitch this year, and of course they have to pitch with much more stress now than they did in the minors.
Edward Mujica and Randy Choate are both grizzled veterans who can be relied upon, but this is Mujica’s first season as a closer. Choate is in his mid-30s, so the brain trust will have to monitor him, too.
The bottom line is that Matheny and Lilliquist really want the starters to give them at least six innings, and preferably seven, every night. Getting six or nine outs is a lot different than having to get 12 or 15. This bullpen can be great, but it will need some time to grow into everyday, major-league roles.
There’s no doubt the Cardinals are a World Series contender and that most unbiased observers regard them as the best team in baseball. But Matheny notes that there is a long way to go, and he’s going to have to nurture his young relievers through September, which most have never pitched in before, and then hopefully October. He has his hands full.
A couple of other quick baseball observations:
* Lance Lynn tied for the NL lead with his 10th win, but it’s more important to him to tie teammate Adam Wainwright. The inter-staff competition the Cardinals have is unique and intense. It’s a product of great leadership among the group from Wainwright and Chris Carpenter. It’s just one of the reasons that it’s too bad Carpenter has suffered a setback in his comeback, the result of a lower back injury suffered in a bullpen session on Sunday. His leadership in the clubhouse is wonderful, but what he does in leading by example is even better.
* Lance Berkman returns to St. Louis as a member of the Texas Rangers this weekend. Most of us thought Berkman was done after last year – including him. But he’s hitting .260 and has six homers and 33 RBI, along with a team-best .363 on base percentage. I guess there is a good reason to have the designated hitter.
* Kyle McClellan also returns to St. Louis. Since being activated by the Rangers on June 9, he’s pitched in six games and has a 6.48 ERA. We’ve seen what he can do when he’s sharp, and hopefully the Rangers will give him enough time to get his game together so he can pitch like he did when he was the eighth-inning man for the Cardinals in 2010 and compiled a 2.27 ERA.
* While the schedule gets tougher for the Cardinals as Texas comes to town, at least the Redbirds are at Busch Stadium. The Reds are at Arizona, and Pittsburgh will visit Anaheim and noted Pirate killer Albert Pujols.