Away from all of the excitement and attention directed toward Los Angeles Dodgers rookie outfielder Yasiel Puig, the St. Louis Cardinals have a rookie who has arguably had an even better start to his career.
Cardinals left-handed relief pitcher Kevin Siegrist appeared in his 13th career Major League Baseball game Friday against the Chicago Cubs and finally became like every other pitcher in the game, one that has allowed at least one run.
Cubs shortstop Starlin Castro homered off of him in the bottom of the eighth to cut the Cardinals’ lead from 3-1 to 3-2, but Siegrist recovered in typical Siegrist fashion: He struck out the next three hitters.
Siegrist, now with a 0.69 earned-run average, has been simply dominant in his brief career. He has struck out 20 hitters while walking just three and giving up three hits in 13 innings. He also became the first Cardinals player since 1900 to not allow a run in his first 12 appearances.
Viewed through the narrow lens of the 2013 season, Siegrist’s performance as a big-leaguer came at nearly the perfect time for the Cardinals. The team called the 23-year-old up from the Triple-A Memphis Redbirds on June 6 in exchange for Maikel Cleto, who had 2.1 horrid innings when he gave up five runs in his only appearance of the season the night before against eh Arizona Diamondbacks.
The Cardinals pitching staff was in strong need of a boost at that point in the season. Yes, the team was 18 games over .500 and had the best record in baseball, but the pitching staff was in the midst of major changes.
Right-handed starter Jake Westbrook went on the disabled list May 12 with elbow inflammation, and left-handed starter Jaime Garcia succumbed to shoulder inflammation the next day. Then, left-handed replacement starter John Gast went on the DL with a shoulder strain two weeks later.
In the meantime, the Cardinals called up seven rookie pitchers, including Siegrist.
By and large, those pitchers did a fine job. Left-handed starter Tyler Lyons got rocked a few times before the Cardinals sent him back to the minors, but Seth Maness, Carlos Martinez, Keith Butler, Michael Blazek and Michael Wacha each made positive contributions to the team.
But none more than Siegrist, who could’ve made a case he should have been an all-star if the fans had voted Puig into the game as the Final Vote winner.
The Dodgers called 22-year-old Puig up to the big leagues just five days before Siegrist, and Puig set the baseball world aflame with dramatic plays in the field and at the plate, which caused a large segment of the baseball community to say Puig should be an all-star even though he has only been in the league for six weeks.
Well, so has Siegrist. Puig has a .397 batting average with eight homeruns and 19 runs batted in during his brief career, but Siegrist has arguably played even better.
It is difficult to compare the two players because they play different parts of the game. Puig played in 37 games from June 3 through Friday while Siegrist appeared in 13, but each has surpassed even the greatest expectations for a rookie at their respective positions.
Had the National League Final Vote included middle relievers, as the American League Final Vote did, Siegrist would’ve had a strong case to be a candidate.
Nonetheless, he figures to be a vital part of the Cardinals bullpen in the second half of the season.
The Cardinals haven’t used left-handed specialist Randy Choate much at all (he’s pitched just six more innings that Siegrist although he’s been on the active roster since Opening Day), and they sent left-handed reliever Marc Rzepczynski to the minor leagues April 29 for ineffectiveness.
That decision left a gaping hole in the bullpen that Siegrist has filled as well as possible, although he has done much of his work in anonymity up to this point.
The pressure will increase when he ends up in a tight situation late in a ballgame against the Pittsburgh Pirates or Cincinnati Reds in the pennant race, but right now he should be the Cardinals go-to reliever when they need to shut down an opponent’s rally even though he received absolutely zero consideration as a potential all-star candidate.