Tag Archive | "Ninth Inning"

The Royals get knocked out of the Wild Card chase

It was fun while it lasted, but the Kansas City Royals playoff hopes came to an end with Wednesday night’s 6-0 loss to the Seattle Mariners. Once again, the Royals offense went into a slump, not scoring a run since the 12th inning of Monday night’s 6-5 win.

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The last few weeks, the Royals were one of five contenders vying for a Wild Card spot. They caught and passed the New York Yankees and Baltimore Orioles, but they couldn’t gain ground on the Tampa Rays, Cleveland Indians and Texas Rangers.

But the Royals didn’t give up. After they lost last Saturday’s game against the Rangers, they bounced back the next day with Justin Maxwell’s ninth inning grand slam off of former Royal All-Star Joakim Soria, giving the Royals a 4-0 victory. Then a four hour, 12 inning win the next day against the Mariners kept the Royals slim playoff hopes alive. But Tuesday’s 4-0 loss to the Mariners and an Indians walk-off home run win by Jason Giambi a few hours earlier hurt their playoff chances. Then Wednesday night’s loss and wins by Cleveland, Tampa and Texas put an end to the Royals playoff hopes.

It’s disappointing the Royals didn’t make the playoffs. But for the first time in almost a generation, the Royals looked like a credible Major League Baseball team. Finishing with a record above .500 for the first time since 2003 and being in the Wild Card hunt, the Royals gave hope to a long-suffering fan base that the team has turned a corner.

But there’s room for improvement. The offense is still weak and despite having five of six winning months, May’s dismal 8-20 record put the Royals in a hole they couldn’t get out of. With last month’s seven game losing streak and their recent critical losses to the Detroit Tigers and the Indians, the Royals doomed their chances of making the playoffs. Look at it this way: if the Royals went .500 in May with a 14-14 record, they would have an 89-69 record and be tied with the Rays in the Wild Card standings.

With an 83-75 record, the Royals have four games left against the Chicago White Sox. They need to win the series and finish with their best record since 1993, when they went 84-78. Their offseason focus will be improving the offense and rebuilding their starting rotation around James Shields and Jeremy Guthrie. They also need to maintain their good defense and bullpen.

Will this happen? With the Royals, it’s hard to say. In the past they’ve shown promise and then crashed and burned. If any team can mess it up, it’s the Royals. But they’re a better team than they were a couple of years ago. They were on their way to another losing season, but after the All-Star break they turned it around and for a while they made themselves into Wild Card contenders. They bounced back from many games and situations that would have doomed them in years past. The Royals have a ways to go, but their experience playing through the highs and the lows of 2013 should help them contend in 2014.

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Edward Mujica eerily similar to Ryan Franklin for St. Louis Cardinals

The St. Louis Cardinals entered the 2009 playoffs with a closer who barely reached 90 mph with his fastball after years of a closer who threw in the mid-to-upper 90s yet had a nearly perfect season before the Cardinals faced the Los Angeles Dodgers in the National League Division Series.

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Ryan Franklin had replaced Jason Isringhausen when Izzy got hurt, or got too ineffective, late in the 2008 season and saved 38 games in 43 opportunities.

The situation at the back end of the Cardinals’ bullpen four years later is nearly exactly the same. The Cardinals lost their flame-throwing closer, Jason Motte, to elbow surgery during spring training and eventually gave the ninth-inning job to Edward Mujica late in April.

Mujica’s fastball tops out around 91 mph, but as was the case with Franklin, he has masterfully induced dozens upon dozens of groundballs on the way to 37 saves in 41 chances with nine games left in the regular season.

And the Cardinals are set up to again play the Dodgers in the National League Division Series if they hold on to win the NL Central over the Pittsburgh Pirates and Cincinnati Reds.

The last time the Cardinals and Dodgers met in the division series is when Franklin’s almost magical run came to an end and never returned.

Dodgers first baseman James Loney hit a line drive to left field in Game 2 that Cardinals left fielder Matt Holliday dropped. Franklin then walked two hitters and gave up two singles, the final one to pinch hitter Mark Loretta to give the Dodgers a 3-2 win and a 2-0 lead in the series that ended in a sweep two days later.

That playoff series was the beginning of the end for Franklin, who had been an All-Star in 2009. He saved 27 games in 2010 but he blew four of his first five save opportunities in 2011 and did not make it to the end of June before the Cardinals released him.

Obviously, the Cardinals hope the matchup against the Dodgers ends a little differently this time around, but the lesson from 2009 is clear. Mujica has been terrific for the Cardinals so far this season, but he is not an overpowering pitcher and not a long-term answer for the team at the closer position.

Thankfully, the Cardinals have a more solid backup option this time than they did two season ago, even though it is the same person.

The Cardinals tried seven different pitchers in the ninth inning in 2011 before manager Tony La Russa settled on Motte in September. Motte saved nine games in the regular season, closed out the National League Championship Series against the Milwaukee Brewers and the World Series against the Texas Rangers, but he had a total of three career saves before that season.

Motte now has a world championship ring and 54 career saves to his name, and manager Mike Matheny will likely give him every possible chance to take back the job when he returns healthy to spring training in 2014.

Until then, Mujica has a lot of work to do, and he has shown some weaknesses lately. After he converted 21 consecutive save chances to start the season and was a perfect 9-for-9 from July 19 through Aug. 26, Mujica has blown two of his four save chances in September and has given up 12 hits in his last 6.1 innings.

Mujica is one of the biggest reasons the Cardinals are in a solid position to make the playoffs, but the team will need more of his first-half performances than his September outings if it is going to beat the Dodgers this time around.

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Wacha-Wright? Repackaging for the stretch run

Michael Wacha’s back and forth season for the St. Louis Cardinals has now taken a new turn, as it comes full circle to where his pro career began – the bullpen. Yet, the future of the starting rotation could be one of the brightest parts of the end of the game as well, and do so in a familiar fashion.

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Go back to 2006 and find another young starter-turned-reliever out of necessity, Adam Wainwright. At the time, he was making his way along as a middle relief arm, but when inning struck Jason Isringhausen and the ninth inning, he was thrust into late inning action and responded resoundingly. Over the final two months of the season, the rookie turned masterful closer, notching seven saves while surrendering only three earned runs across 21.2 innings total between the regular and postseason. He then returned the next season and turned his sights towards a now fairly notable career as a starter and never looked back.

Fast forward seven years.

Wacha, who brought an even higher amount of notability along with him to the Busch Stadium mound is in his second trip to St. Louis of the season. After making a spot start amid the restructuring of the Cardinal rotation, he is now getting settled in the bullpen, where he will be used in what manager Mike Matheny describes as “high leverage situations”. What exactly that will be could be defined variously. While it is not likely to be as high profile of a gig as Wainwright landed, it could still call some some quite high leverage spots. Whether in a structured role in the fashion of Edward Mujica from a year ago, or if it is in randomly tight situations in the same fashion as Trevor Rosenthal a year ago or Seth Maness currently, there are number of places Matheny  could insert his highly touted rookie. Luckily enough, he is not unaccustomed to a late inning role; last year only one run was managed against him during stops in Palm Beach and Springfield, good for a 0.56 ERA and 33 strikeouts in 16 innings, all while helping Springfield close out the Texas League title.

That was an efficiency that the rookie carried over into his first big league camp, where he continued his dominant ways, striking out 15 in 11 innings spread out over five appearances. And while he broke camp and headed towards Memphis to hone his craft as a starter, John Mozeliak left the door open for Wacha to contribute in any role the club may need, and now he is primed to be a part of the teams all hands on deck approach to using its top arms down the stretch.

Whatever the role, it is one that Wacha will have an opportunity to make a much needed impact. At the point he is at now, the minors are doing no good for his development, yet there is no room (or reason) for him to be a starter. He needs to work in the majors, develop his arsenal and more importantly than anything else, be a difference maker for a team that’s in need of them. The more weapons, the merrier at this point in the year, and for a Cardinal team that decided staying completely internal at the trade deadline was their best bet, the idea is now clear that Wacha is ready to be additional arm that the big league club would need.

He was wasted no time in proving that he could be the right man for that role, striking out four of the six batters he faced over two perfect innings on Wednesday night. Showcasing the plus change up he’s known for, as well as flashing good location on his fastball, he showed why there was the unparalleled buzz he created in the spring existed, and why going ahead, he could be a blast from a not so distant, yet familiar, past.

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Should there be a third Royals All-Star?

For the first time in a decade, the Royals have more than one player named to the All-Star team. Alex Gordon and Salvador Perez are the first duo to earn the honors since Mike MacDougal and Mike Sweeney in 2003.

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While Kansas City fans will enjoy watching Gordon and Perez in the Midsummer Classic, the Royals very easily could have had three All-Stars and some might argue they should. The third potential All-Star is closer Greg Holland, who has been lights out in the ninth inning pretty much all season.

Holland’s stats this year have been impressive.  He is 22 of 24 in save opportunities. He sports a whopping 15.4 K/9 with 60 strikeouts in 35.0 innings, good for a tie for first in strikeouts among American League closers. His 22 saves place him fifth in the league. He has converted his past 15 save opportunities and hasn’t blown a save since May 6. And right now, Holland is red hot. In an outstanding start to July, Holland has yet to give up a run in five chances. He has given up two hits over that time, while striking out 10 in five innings.

So, now that we’ve analyzed Holland’s numbers, the question becomes who does he replace on the team. The relievers selected to the American League squad are Mariano Rivera, Joe Nathan, Glen Perkins, Jesse Crain and Brett Cecil.

Holland has a better ERA and WHIP than Rivera. Crain and Cecil are middle relievers who are having excellent seasons. Nathan is having arguably the best season among all American League closers and with the game in New York, Rivera is deserving of his spot in his final season. That leaves Perkins.

Perkins has had a very good year and AL manager Jim Leyland took notice, especially after Perkins has notched four saves this year against Leyland’s Tigers. But if you compare Holland with Perkins, it seems the Royals hurler may have been the better pick. Holland has a better ERA, more strikeouts and more saves. Both have blown only two save opportunities and Perkins has a slightly better WHIP. It may be splitting hairs, because Perkins has had a great year and it’s not always exclusively about the numbers (Leyland has seen Perkins more than Holland this year).

However, Holland has an excellent case for being the third member of the Royals in New York City next week.

Holland isn’t dwelling on his omission from the roster.

“It just didn’t happen,” Holland told the Kansas City Star. “There were a lot of guys who didn’t make it who were deserving too. So you’ve just got to move on. I thought I was deserving of consideration, and I imagine I got some. It’s tough to pick a team. That’s part of it.”

He still could be selected to the team should Leyland need to make an injury replacement. But, if not, Holland will enjoy the days off and hope he can continue his torrid July pace.

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Road To Omaha

Eight tickets have been punched, and eight college baseball teams are on their way to Omaha for the NCAA Baseball Championships. The last two weekends have been filled with great games, wacky weather, and true baseball drama.

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The number one overall seed North Carolina Tar Heels have been in the middle of a lot of the drama as they are one of the eight teams still playing. They have been apart of the final deciding game in both the Regional round and Super Regional round. The Heels have arguably been apart of one of the best games played on any diamond this year, battled through several rain delays, and knocked off the team that has played in each of the last three championship series.

In the Regional round they competed against Florida Atlantic in a winner take all game. After a long delay even starting the game, Carolina led for much of the game going into the ninth inning. They proceeded to give up six runs in the top of the ninth to trail 8-6. Nearly becoming just the second number one overall seed not to advance, they scored two runs in the bottom of the ninth to force extra innings. It did not stop there as in the 12th, FAU scored three runs to go up three. North Carolina rallied again like a cat with nine lives to force a 13th inning. In the 13th, the Heels finally tallied the winning run well after midnight on a ball that hit more chalk then grass and won 12-11.

In the Super Regional round they again danced with drama and defeated South Carolina in a best of three series to advance again. South Carolina the last three seasons was one of the final two teams playing for a championship.

Also joining North Carolina in Omaha is Mississippi St, Oregon St, Louisville, UCLA, LSU, and first timers Indiana and North Carolina St. Of the final eight teams only Oregon St and LSU have won a Baseball National Championship.

All eight team obviously have their strengths and weaknesses. A key opening match up will be Louisville versus Indiana as both teams are under the radar and can make a run to the finals. Also one thing to keep an eye out for is will there be a third final between North Carolina and Oregon St? In 2006 and 2007 Oregon St won back to back championships defeating UNC both times. Will 2013 be different?

Still a bold prediction for Omaha: A team will win their first ever championship this year. Granted the odds are favored in that direction, but that was the prediction as well before the start of the tournament.

Either way, the two weeks in Omaha always bring great play on the field and fantastic memories. Baseball lovers can always appreciate the College World Series.

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Mitchell Boggs gets blame, but Victor Marte no better

The St. Louis Cardinals might have finally cut ties with one veteran right-handed reliever Friday when they sent Mitchell Boggs back to the minors, but they need to say goodbye to another.

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Sure, Boggs gave up a back-breaking homerun to Kansas City Royals pinch-hitter Jeff Francour in the ninth inning of Thursday night’s epic and took the official loss, but his successor just made matters worse.

Victor Marte came in with Royals leftfielder Alex Gordon, who Boggs walked, on first base. Marte promptly hit shortstop Alcides Escobar in the hand, and made a throwing error on the next play to load the bases.

To top things off, first baseman Eric Hosmer hit a high chopper over Cardinals first baseman Allen Craig’s head to drive in the deciding two runs in what became a 4-2 Royals win before Marte intentionally walked pinch hitter Chris Getz.

Mercifully, Mother Nature sent a massive rainstorm that required a four-and-a-half hour delay to prevent Marte from allowing the Royals to do anymore damage. Joe Kelly, who might have been a better option to start the inning anyway, came in after the game restarted at 3:04 a.m. and quickly got three outs.

Obviously, Boggs wasn’t manager Mike Matheny’s best choice to try and close the game since he deemed regular closer Edward Mujica unavailable because he had pitched in each of the four previous games, but Marte obviously wouldn’t have been any better if he’d have started the inning.

The Cardinals have an incredible stockpile of young pitchers in their organization, including four who they have used in the bullpen. Why not use them? Sure, the Cardinals had only a 2-1 lead heading into the ninth inning, but the rookies have done nothing so far to prove they can’t handle that type of situation.

Boggs has, many times.

The Cardinals tried to make him their closer to start the season after Jason Motte suffered a season-ending elbow injury in spring training, but Boggs allowed 16 runs in 13 games with 10 walks that led to two blown saves and another two losses.

That led the Cardinals to send Boggs to the Triple-A Memphis Redbirds on May 2, and he remained there until the big club recalled him May 19.

His performance wasn’t much better the second time around, either. He allowed a homerun to San Diego Padres outfielder Will Venable, the first batter he faced, May 20 in his return. He also gave up a run five days later against the Los Angeles Dodgers before Thursday’s meltdown.

Meanwhile, the team has had phenomenal success with pitchers such as Trevor Rosenthal, Seth Maness and Carlos Martinez. The team recently sent Martinez back to Memphis to condition as a starter, but those three pitchers have a combined 2.92 earned-run average in 45 appearances.

Marte’s first appearance of the 2013 season came Thursday, but it didn’t look much different than how he fared in 2012. The Cardinals picked the 32-year-old up off the scrap heap after he spent 2009-10 with the Royals, and he actually pitched pretty well in the first half of the season with a 3.82 ERA, 12 appearances in June when he allowed just five runs, combined.

However, by the time the season ended his ERA had ballooned to 4.91, and he did not make the postseason roster. The Cardinals used young pitchers such as Shelby Miller instead.

And that’s what they should do again in 2013. They called up Keith Butler from the Double-A Springfield Cardinals to replace Boggs, and they’ll soon need a replacement for Marte, if Thursday was any indication.

That decision will be easier once right-handed starter Jake Westbrook returns to help lessen the burden four rookies have carried in the starting rotation this season.

It might not be desirable to have so many young pitchers on the staff, but Matheny shouldn’t hesitate to use them in important situations because right now they are simply the best option.

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Is Mujica Playing His Way Out of St. Louis?

The early season tailspin of the Cardinals season was due much in part the inability to close games out late. The struggles extended when the search to find the right arm to fill in to the final frame role. Yet, when Edward Mujica took the ball to close out for the first time on April 18 in Philadelphia, everything changed, because Mujica’s performance didn’t. He converted that save for the club, and hasn’t wasted a chance since, and it’s no coincidence that since he established himself even later in games, and this weekend he saved both of the Cardinal wins, running his season total to a perfect 13 for 13.

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“Chief” has taken the same lock down performance he brought to seventh inning a year ago over this season, and has firmly established himself as the club’s most reliable reliever. Since arriving in St. Louis last August, he has put up a 1.19 ERA in 45.1 Cardinal innings, an effort that has also seen him perform unflappably in two different roles in the Cardinal pen. “Adding Mujica was huge for us,” pitcher Mitchell Boggs stated regarding his impact upon arrival last year. “He stabilized our bullpen and gave us another proven arm that could go out there night in and night out. We took off as a bullpen when we got him.”

Historically, he was not a final inning arm before coming to St. Louis. His career ERA in the eighth inning is 4.96, while 3.16 in the ninth. Yet, with his success closing out games raising his profile, it makes him a sleeper candidate for a guy having a huge contract year.

Hitting the market with a ninth inning grade is much different than a seventh/eighth inning one. Mujica, who is bringing in just over $3 million for the 2013 season, which was due from his final arbitration year, is setting himself up for a bigger boost due to the presence of one of the most rewarded stats in baseball: saves. And with Jason Motte on the mend and with no easy date to say when he’ll be ready to go, there’s a chance the Cardinals will have to get very competitive to keep him in the stable.

As things stand now, he’s aligning himself to be among the best relievers in the National League this season, and if history shows anything, it’s that a big jump in saves can equal a very solid jump in pay grade. When Brandon League saved 37 games for the Mariners in 2011, he had never bettered six before in a season. He also had never bettered $2.2 million per season either, yet when he neared free agency this past winter, the Dodgers handed him $27.5 million over the next four seasons, much in part due to that breakout year only one season removed. Similar cases can be seen recently with Joel Hanrahan, Grant Balfour and Francisco Cordero. The closer market overall will be very open for “jump biding” this winter, meaning it’s ripe for the over pay, which damages the Cardinals chances at retaining Mujica at a manageable price, even in a setup capacity.

Yet, the need for a return to St. Louis will be highly influenced by the price, as well as the contingencies. Trevor Rosenthal is in the wings, and is being groomed to be the ninth inning arm of the future, regardless of Motte’s status. If the price for Mujica surpasses the $5 million mark annually (which it seems guaranteed to do), is there a chance the Cardinals bow out in favor of parking one of the promising arms within the system in the role for nearly 90% less? With Rosenthal as well as Joe Kelly, Carlos Martinez, and potentially Mitchell Boggs, in the wings, the Cardinals hold over until Motte returns at the back of the bullpen is solid. And while Mujica has been without a doubt one of the great coups of John Mozeliak’s tenure, his continued success could continue to draw his time to close at Busch.

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St. Louis Cardinals reinvent bullpen sooner than normal in 2013

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.

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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.

Now both are pitching for the Triple-A Memphis Redbirds while rookies Seth Maness, 24, and Carlos Martinez, 21, get a chance at the big-league level.

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.

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Welcome To St. Louis Carlos Martinez

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“Better get there quick, Big Boy.”

That quote has circled the blogosphere this week after St. Louis Cardinal General Manager John Mozeliak responded with those words after Josh Gilliam, of the great site Pitchers Hit Eighth, asked about seeing Carlos Martinez in Springfield.  Less than a week later, Martinez is on his way to Milwaukee to join the major league squad as struggling reliever Mitchell Boggs heads to Triple-A to join Memphis.

Boggs was in line to be the Cardinals’ eighth inning man going into the season when closer Jason Motte revealed an injury.  The easiest resolution to that, in manager Mike Matheny‘s mind, was to move everyone in the bullpen up a role and Boggs was thrust into the closer position.  His reaction was less than satisfactory and suddenly the bullpen, once thought to be a strength of the team, was in turmoil.  It seemed everyone was struggling and Boggs was, quite possibly, at the head of it all.

Mozeliak moved quickly in response, sending Marc Rzepczynski to the minor leagues and adding Seth Maness both to the major league and the 40-man roster.  The bullpen needed to be settled and Mozeliak aimed to do so quickly.  Edward Mujica found patience and settled the ninth inning going forward.  Trevor Rosenthal, while still not being perfect, has seemed to find a bit of a foothold.

Boggs, however, continued to struggle.  He would show moments of steadiness followed by loss of command and concentration.  He has shown improvement, but not enough to warrant a continued spot on the roster.  Memphis will provide a place to step away from the focus and the bright lights of major league baseball while Boggs tries to discover his former command and potential.

Martinez, meanwhile, has shown progress throughout a season that started a little late this season.  Due to some visa issues early on, Martinez was very late arriving to a spring training that might have led to his arrival in St. Louis on opening day.  Due to the late start, Martinez found himself in Springfield to start the season.  In three starts, the most recent of which was on April 29, Martinez has increasingly gone further and been more effective.  Over the course of just over 11 innings this season, he has surrendered 11 hits and one walk.  Conversely, he has struck out nine hitters and held opponents to just three runs.  He is not the most impressive of Cardinal minor league hurlers, but he shows enough promise to deserve the promotion.

To make room for Martinez on the 40-man roster, as founder of the United Cardinal Bloggers Daniel Shoptaw speculated, shortstop Rafael Furcal was moved to the 60-day disabled list.

The hard throwing right-hander arrives in St. Louis as a part of the bullpen solution.  His next challenges will surface as he is used more frequently and in higher pressure situations.  How he responds to that challenge will reveal his longevity at this level.

The future has arrived in St. Louis.  How bright it shines is about to become apparent.

Bill Ivie is the editor here at i70baseball.
You can follow him on Twitter by 
clicking here.

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St. Louis Cardinals need more Joe Kelly, less Mitchell Boggs

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.

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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.

For example, the Detroit Tigers had a bullpen that included 100 mph-plus throwers Joel Zumaya Fernando Rodney, but both suffered injuries within two years.

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.

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