The St. Louis Cardinals beat the Pittsburgh Pirates 9-1 Friday, but they had to survive another bad performance from reliever Mitchell Boggs while Joe Kelly once again proved he should be used more often.
Cardinals manager Mike Matheny didn’t give Boggs a chance to completely blow the 5-1 lead he had when he entered the game to start the eighth inning, but he did load the bases while recording just one out.
Left-handed specialist Randy Choate bailed him out by forcing Pirates third baseman Pedro Alvarez to hit into an inning-ending double play, but the Cardinals could have avoided the entire situation if they’d used Joe Kelly to start the inning.
In fact, the Cardinals might not have had to suffer through nearly as many lousy bullpen outings if they had used Kelly more in the first three weeks of the season. Matheny has instead used him in situations such as Friday’s ninth inning when the Cardinals had already opened an eight-run lead.
The bullpen has been the Achilles’ heel of the team so far this season. It had a collective 4.84 earned-run average through 22 games and blew four leads for a starting rotation that has a 2.12 ERA and has kept the team in all but one game so far this season.
Part of the problem is the Cardinals lost their regular closer, Jason Motte, to an elbow injury during spring training and had to scramble to fill his spot right before the regular season started.
Boggs was a logical choice to open the season as the Cardinals’ closer after a great 2012 season when he was the eighth-inning setup reliever. He had career-best 2.21 ERA while pitching in 78 games and earning 34 holds.
But he was a completely different pitcher as the closer. He has allowed 12 runs with eight walks and two blown saves in 11 appearances through the team’s first 22 games. Meanwhile, Kelly has pitched in seven games and allowed four runs with no walks. However, he hasn’t pitched in many high-leverage situations.
Now, that’s not to say Kelly should be the Cardinals closer. Edward Mujica stepped into that role nicely by earning two saves each on recent road series in Philadelphia and Washington.
That move has settled the bullpen, for now, but Kelly must have a larger role in the late innings if the Cardinals are going to consistently keep teams from completing late-inning comebacks.
Matheny recently referred to Kelly as “a Ferrari” that is a nice luxury to have in the bullpen, but that resource is nearly useless if it only sits in the garage.
Instead, Boggs and rookie reliever Trevor Rosenthal have come out of the bullpen seemingly every single day. Rosenthal has pitched in 12 games already, the most of any pitcher on the team despite also being the youngest.
That’s a lot of pressure to put on a young pitcher and his arm so early into his first full big-league season. Yes, Rosenthal throws really hard and can be an effective weapon out of the bullpen, but flamethrowers don’t always last that long.
The Cardinals have excellent pitching depth in the minor leagues, but Rosenthal is a prized possession and should be treated as such. Kelly also throws really hard and has enormous potential, but he pitched in the starting rotation much of 2012 and is more accustomed to the demands of a Major League Baseball season.
However, Matheny continues to bring in Rosenthal nearly every night, and Boggs pitches in game after game as the team waits for him to fix his motion while Kelly sits out in the bullpen.
And that type of bullpen management could continue to cost the Cardinals ballgames before Mujica ever reaches the mound until Kelly receives a larger role in the late innings.