Cardinals' ailing bullpen able to get some relief
Club's youth movement promising in some early auditions against Brewers
MILWAUKEE -- The thing that sets the St. Louis Cardinals apart from most of the competition is not that they don't have problems. What sets this organization apart is that it appears to have some really viable solutions.
On Friday, some forks in the road were reached by the St. Louis club in regard to its bullpen issues. Their incumbent closer, Jason Motte, opted for Tommy John surgery, after a rehab program did not produce satisfactory results.
Plan B closer Mitchell Boggs, so effective in a setup role last season, was optioned to Triple-A Memphis, where he can presumably work his way beyond his early season ineffectiveness.
On the other side of the ledger, the Cardinals summoned yet another flame-throwing prospect, Carlos Martinez. The 21-year-old's stuff was described by Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak as "dynamic."
"What we know about him, all things are pointing in one direction -- he's ready," Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said of Martinez. "He's been throwing the ball extremely well. He comes into a unique situation. With Yadi [Yadier Molina] behind the plate, he can just go out and pitch and not have to be the guy doing all the analytics. But right now, it's his time. I think he's ready for it."
The manager wasn't kidding. The Cardinals put Martinez to work in the seventh inning on Friday night with a 6-1 lead over the Milwaukee Brewers. He gave up an infield hit, then induced a double-play grounder, and then finished the inning with a routine grounder.
In the eighth, the Cardinals produced another pitcher making his Major League debut, Seth Maness. The 24-year-old Maness, a command pitcher, worked a spotless inning, getting three straight ground-ball outs. Fernando Salas had a 1-2-3 ninth. Bolstered by their new relievers, the Cardinals won, 6-1, for their fourth straight victory.
The Cardinals have had three relievers working with real effectiveness.
Edward Mujica has taken over the closer's role and converted all seven of his save opportunities. Trevor Rosenthal, who has hit three digits with his fastball in the Majors, has solidified the eighth-inning role. And Randy Choate has succeeded in his role as a lefty specialist.
One bullpen issue for the Cardinals is that Rosenthal and Mujica may be, by the simple virtue of their effectiveness, subject to overuse.
"Trevor and Edward are being used heavily right now -- not by design, it's by necessity," Matheny said. "We've got other guys down there who can pitch late innings and have, but with what we've seen lately, those are the guys we have to go to. But we just can't keep beating them up."
"I feel like we're going to the same couple of guys every night, and my fear is that we're going to wear out a Rosie or a Mujica," Mozeliak said.
There has been an obvious contrast between the Redbirds' starting rotation, which came into the Milwaukee series leading both leagues in ERA, and the St. Louis bullpen, which ranked dead last in ERA. But there are still exceptional arms in that bullpen.
Brewers manager Ron Roenicke was asked about preferring to face the St. Louis relievers as opposed to the St. Louis starters. He wasn't buying.
"I look at the bullpen arms they have," Roenicke said. "Maybe the numbers don't show that they're throwing as well as their starters, but anytime you've got guys coming out throwing 96-100 [mph], none of our guys want to see those guys.
"We may score runs off them, and they may walk somebody and maybe things don't work out, but any time you have arms like that, you're not saying, 'Oh, yeah, I want to face this guy.'"
The talent in this bullpen is indisputable, even if the performance so far this season has not been uniformly satisfactory.
"I still think we have a lot of talent in that bullpen, but clearly we've got to find the right combination that becomes more effective," Mozeliak said. "You don't want to have an inning like you saw [Thursday night], where you have to use three pitchers to get three outs. That's just not efficient."
The late-inning usage of Martinez, in his first night in the big leagues, and Mannes, who had been called up earlier in the week, is not likely to be a one-time occurrence.
"We're at the point, we've got to see what a Seth Mannes can do, we've got to see what a Carlos Martinez can do, because the other guys can't keep carrying the load that they've been carrying," Matheny said. "We've got to figure it out and the only way to do that is to put guys in positions to succeed, and let them take bigger roles."
It ought to be pointed out, that the work of Martinez and Mannes followed six more terrific innings from starter Shelby Miller. Miller, 22, has allowed one run in 13 innings against Milwaukee this season.
It was like Cardinals Pitching Development Night at Miller Park, although that was not a concept that would have found much favor with the Milwaukee franchise.
"A think it's a great compliment to our organization, our scouts, our development system for what they've been able to do to get these guys to the point that the kids that we're bringing in here don't look like they're overwhelmed," Matheny said. "They don't look like they're shell-shocked. They just don't look like they're overmatched."
Serious bullpen questions? Certainly. But the Cardinals also have some promising bullpen answers.
Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.