The St. Louis Cardinals began their yearly bullpen revolution early this year as three of the team’s projected relievers are already off the active 25-man roster just a month into the season. Buckle up as another group of extremely young pitchers try to guide the team through the late innings.
Expected closer Jason Motte succumbed to an elbow injury in spring training and will now have Tommy John surgery, which will keep him out the rest of the season and possibly part of the 2014 season, so the Cardinals turned to 2012 right-handed setup reliever Mitchell Boggs to take his place.
Well, that didn’t work out so great. Boggs pitched in 14 games, blew two saves, walked 12 hitters in 10.2 innings and had a 12.66 earned-run average.
Meanwhile, left-handed reliever Marc Rzepczynski came in for nine appearances, gave up 13 hits in eight innings and had a 7.88 ERA.
So far, so good.
Granted neither pitcher has appeared beyond their one inning of work in Friday’s 6-1 win over the Milwaukee Brewers, but they also didn’t walk anybody. Martinez gave up a single, but he quickly erased that blemish with a double play on a groundball to the mound.
That sample size can’t get any smaller, but neither pitcher looked overwhelmed in their debuts, and both could become very important parts of the Cardinals bullpen as the season progresses.
Edward Mujica has locked down the closer’s role for the time being. He replaced Boggs for ninth-inning duties April 22 in Washington against the Nationals and has converted each of his seven save opportunities heading into play Saturday.
Rookie Trevor Rosenthal has also started to settle in after a rocky start in which he gave up runs in four of his first eight appearances, but he hasn’t allowed an earned run in his last four outings while striking out six hitters and could take Boggs’ 2012 role as the eighth-inning setup reliever for Mujica’s ninth.
However, that leaves the sixth and seventh innings in flux. Fernando Salas has been solid thus far. He has a 2.86 ERA in 10 appearances, and Randy Choate has a nice 2.25 ERA, but manager Mike Matheny has primarily used him as a left-handed specialist. The other middle reliever, Joe Kelly, has struggled, giving up 18 hits and 10 runs in 9.1 innings.
So Maness and Martinez will likely be put to work early and often in their rookie seasons. The Cardinals starting rotation has pitched extremely well so far this season, but eventually the team will have to rely on a bridge from the starter to the late-inning relievers as the rotation’s ridiculously good 2.06 ERA regresses to a more normal level.
And that’s where Maness and Martinez will be extremely important. The Cardinals have already seen how much a bad bullpen can constantly stunt a team’s success, and they have made borderline desperate moves by bringing up two rookie pitchers at the beginning of May.
It’s a move that could blow up in the team’s face. Maness and Martinez could eventually become overwhelmed by the stress and pressure that comes with being on a Major League Baseball team at such a young age, but it’s a move the Cardinals had to make.
If nothing else, it bought the Cardinals time while Boggs and Rzepczynski refocused in Memphis and tried to recover their typically good form. Both pitchers are a large reason the Cardinals didn’t put together a great record in April, but they are veteran pitchers and could still be valuable later in the season.
Maness and Martinez will likely also have a few struggles along the way, but if they can capitalize on their first big-league experiences, and Boggs and Rzepczynski come back strong, the Cardinals bullpen could actually become a strength by the end of the season.
At least that’s how it has worked out the past two seasons.