Tag Archive | "Reins"

Molina Brings Consistency To Cardinals

Nearly complete with our look around the St. Louis Cardinals we land on catcher this week.  With the absence of both Tony LaRussa and Dave Duncan, Yadier Molina’s role might be more important than any other Cardinal heading into 2012.

New manager Mike Matheny originally joined the St. Louis Cardinals before the 2000 season and stuck around through 2004, bringing great stability and defensive prowess behind the plate for St. Louis. He handed the reins of the pitching staff over to his understudy, Yadier Molina, in 2005, and the rocket-armed, Molina has been there ever since.

The four-time Gold Glove catcher Yadier Molina enters spring training this year a lifetime Cardinal seeking a long-term extension, just like Pujols a year ago. Molina is heading into the final year of his contract and he would like to stay in St. Louis.

The 29-year-old Molina, the youngest and most talented of three brothers to catch on in the major leagues, is coming off perhaps his best season. In addition to a strong year behind the plate, he set career offensive highs with a .300 average, 14 homers and 65 RBIs, then added nine RBIs in the World Series. This in addition to his handling of the Cardinals pitching staff and assault on base runners

However this season presents another challenge for Molina. One he has been able to avoid so far in his Cardinal Career.  Whether or not his contract talks affect his play will take time to tell. One thing is for certain. Molina enters this spring as the best back-stop in the National League, let alone his own division.

Geovany Soto, Cubs.  Catcher Geovany Soto slumped in 2011, hitting .228 with 17 homers, 54 RBIs and 46 runs scored.  Soto struggled with injuries early in the season and never got on track, striking out 124 times in 421 at-bats. There is still plenty of power in his bat and Soto could collect more hits in 2012. 20 to 25 home run potential.  Just know he could hit anywhere from .215 to .290 any given season.

Ryan Hanigan, Reds. Hanigan appears to be a good bet to pair in a catching tandem next season, splitting time with Devin Mesoraco.  After hitting .354 in August, Hanigan came back to Earth with a .235 average in September. With a .267 average and minimal to no power Hanigan will be fighting for his job most of the spring and regular season.

*Devin Mesoraco, Reds.  Super prospect failed to impress in his September call-up.  Maybe this will keep him under the radar, because he has all the tools to be a top 5 catcher for years to come.  He hit .289 with 15 home runs in AAA last year.

Jason Castro, Astros. Missed all of last season after undergoing major knee surgery, will miss the first part of Spring Training after undergoing surgery in December.  He hit .205 with two homers and eight RBIs in 195 at-bats in his Major League debut in 2010. Still, the injury casts some uncertainty over Houston’s catching situation entering spring camp. Castro, the club’s first-round pick in 2008 out of Stanford, is slated to be the starter next year in what would be his first full season in the Major Leagues.

Jonathan Lucroy, Brewers. Lucroy put together a fine sophomore campaign with 12 homers, 59 RBIs and a .265 average.  Lucroy went deep five times in May but didn’t show a lot of power the rest of the way. His .247 average after the break will cast some doubt on his 2012 value but regular playing time should help him.

Rod Barajas, Pirates. Playing for the Dodgers, where he started 85 games behind the plate and batted .230 with 13 doubles, 16 homers, 47 RBIs and a .287 on-base percentage. He missed nearly a month during the summer while recovering from a right ankle sprain.  A short-term commitment for the Pirates, who are hopeful that top catching prospect Tony Sanchez will be ready to ascend to the Majors in the next year or two.

Yadier Molina, Cardinals. Molina’s ability to hit for average and supply respectable power makes mixed with his superior work behind the plate means that he will continue to get as much playing time as he can handle.  In 2011 the Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina slugged 14 homers, stole four bases, drove in 65 runs, scored 55 times and hit .305. Career highs across the board.

By the time 2012 is said and done here is how I see things shaking out amongst the NL Central backstops. Here more than any other position I factored non-batting statistics and play into the equation.

  1. Yadier Molina
  2. Geovany Soto
  3. Jonathan Lucroy
  4. RobBarajas
  5. Ryan Hanigan
  6. Jason Castro

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The Winter Warm Up Files: Adam Wainwright On Rehabbing, Pitching, And Tebow

St. Louis Cardinal hurler Adam Wainwright showed up to the Winter Warm Up Saturday looking fit and ready to go for the 2012 season. After signing autographs for a good number of fans in attendance, it only took a couple sentences into his session with the media to confirm he was, in fact, ready to pitch come Opening Day.

Courtesy of Erika Lynn and DiamondDiaries.net

But first, the big question that’s really on everyone’s mind: What does he think of that one quarterback in Denver?

“I am obsessed with Tim Tebow, and I’m not afraid to say it,” Wainwright said. “It’s almost embarrassing to us athletes that this much attention has been put on Tim Tebow because that means we aren’t living our lives like we should.” Wainwright was stunned when he was watching the news one night and while talking about prospective GOP presidential candidates in 2012, the broadcasters mentioned Tim Tebow “about 50 times in a 30 minute span.” Wainwright is very vocal about how proud he is of Tebow and even deliberated missing an event with Tony La Russa Saturday night just to watch the Broncos play the Patriots. So is Tim Tebow the face of football right now? “I feel like he is the face of sports right now and rightfully so,” Wainwright said. “He gives the whole nation something to believe in.”

Well, some in towns with rival NFL teams may have arguments to the contrary. But in St. Louis, the question on everyone’s mind goes back to the health of Wainwright’s surgically repaired elbow.

“The arm is feeling great,” Wainwright said, adding that he’s “kind of worried I’m too far along…(I’m) going to feel fresh and ready to go, and they’re probably going to pull the reins on me a little bit in the beginning.” Wainwright has already begun throwing in Florida so Spring Training will feel normal, rather than how it might feel with a different routine coming off a year lost to Tommy John Surgery. When asked about his readiness for the start of the regular season, Wainwright says he’ll be able to pitch but hinted the role of rotation ace may belong to someone else for now. ”I’ll be ready for Game 2, or whatever they tell me,” he said with a grin.

Wainwright said he is already throwing breaking balls with ease, though that’s not what causes the most stress during the healing process—letting a fastball fly is. He also felt like his command was there before his velocity was but that neither should be an issue early on in the 2012 campaign.

Earlier in the day, General Manager John Mozeliak commented on Wainwright’s recovery and reintegration into the Cards’ rotation. He anticipated 150-175 innings for Wainwright in 2012 depending on the number of high-leverage situations and high-stress innings were mixed in. But the hurler rejected that mentality. “150 innings sounds like half a season,” Wainwright said. “If I’m making all my starts, I just don’t see how that’d be possible. But he is the boss, so at the end of the day you defer to him. But any pitcher who’s out there competing their tail off and is decent at what they do should throw more than 150 innings, so that would never ever be a goal of mine. I’ve kind of refrained from setting and goals, especially this year.”

Wainwright feels like he is one of the leaders on this team, a role that may be expanded now that Albert Pujols has departed. And the season lost to injury has taught him that he definitely loves to pitch, and isn’t ready to quit. He searched for ways to satisfy his competitive hunger, but the limitations of his rehab relegated the star pitcher to playing games on his cell phone. Wainwright said one of the benefits of all the time off was some additional healing in other areas of his body, including strengthening the structure of his throwing shoulder and eliminating some soreness in his Achilles. That should bode well for the hurler’s future health the further he gets from the Tommy John procedure.

And speaking of the future, the Cardinals did pick up Wainwright’s two year option. But he said no long-term extension has been discussed with the team at all. Wainwright thinks the team probably won’t initiate such contact until they see he’s healthy, adding “But if I go out there rolling, they better get going quick!” with a chuckle.

“I want to finish my career here,” Wainwright continued. “Everybody that stays here wants to finish their career here. With St. Louis, people call it Baseball Heaven. We kind of have it like that. I’m very blessed to play in St. Louis.”

Chris Reed is covering the Winter Warm Up all weekend for I-70 Baseball. Follow him on Twitter @birdbrained.

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Close the Door

On Tuesday, long time close Trevor Hoffman announced his retirement. Despite the fact “Hells Bells” collected his 600th save this year, it was probably one year too late.

Don’t get me wrong. As a Cardinal fan, I thoroughly enjoyed watching Trevor serve up meatball after meatball in 2010. For instance, I was at the April 11th game in Milwaukee when he gave up back to back homers to Pujols and Holliday allowing the Cardinals to come from behind and tie it up in ninth. It was a terrific turn of events. That is until the bottom of that frame when McClellan gave up a homer to end the game.

My favorite Hoffman/Cardinals memory was from August 2009 when he blew a save against Holliday. The game seemed all but over until Pujols was walked and Holliday followed up with a go ahead two run homer. It was fun and thrilling, for Cardinals fans that is.

But more often than not, Hoffman did his job. He was a precise pitcher and a fierce competitor. He’ll always be associated with greatness and should arguably be a HOF inductee one day. I wish him well on his retirement from Major League Baseball.

With a shut down closer like Hoffman, a team can more often than not shorten the length of a game. Meaning; all you have to do is get to the ninth inning with a lead. At that point you can count on your closer to shut down the game. This, in essence, only gives the opposition 8 innings of scoring opportunities. You don’t have to be a baseball expert to know what kind of an advantage that is.

Trevor Hoffman’s retirement leads me to ponder state of the closer position on the St. Louis Cardinals. It’s been a hot topic over the last few seasons. Ever since “Izzy” broke down in 2008, the position has been in question.

Sure, Ryan Franklin has taken a strong hold of the reins. But there are many, myself included, who do not feel comfortable with Franklin. There is always that sense that he is one game away from an epic meltdown that could spiral into season long meltdown. He’s never had a dominating fastball. He pitches to contact. That can be good if you are only giving up ground balls. But if you start elevating your pitches, disaster awaits.

His performance in 2009 was stellar. That year, Franklin had an ERA of 1.92 as batters hit a paltry .220 against him. He collected 38 saves that year. His first half was so dominant he was voted onto the NL All-Star roster.

Most of his earned runs were earned in the second half of the season. But that’s been the problem with Franklin, hasn’t it? He starts out the season strong but clearly gets winded by the end of the year. It’s concerning because heading into the playoffs your best from your closer.

In 2010, Franklin’s numbers went up. He posted a 3.46 ERA as batters hit .230 against him. He saves dropped from 38 to 27. He had some epic blow ups, too. Coors field comes to my mind but I won’t go there.

So going forward, who will be the closer of the Cardinals if Franklin can no longer get the job done? Traditional thinking says it should be Jason Motte. He certainly has the fastball for it. Jason can reach the upper nineties on a good night. And he has the “moxie” to be a closer. He yells, he shouts, he tries to intimidate. The issue with Motte has been control and a second pitch to compliment his fastball. His numbers definitely improved last year. He dropped his ERA from 4.76 in 2009 to 2.24 in 2010. If he can continue to develop a second pitch and get his control mastered, he could become a dominant closer.

There has been some discussion about Kyle McClellan becoming a closer. He did collect two saves last year. And, he has shown some brilliance coming out of the bullpen with a 2.27 ERA. But I tend to see him as a potential starter or a long reliever. I think using him for three outs at the end of the game would be wasting his talent.

Toward the end of the 2010 season there were a lot of people clamoring on internet message boards and chat rooms for Fernando Salas to take the closer role. He definitely had a promising rookie season. The righty pitched in 27 games with a 3.52 ERA. With more experience he could work his way up to the role of closer if Motte can not take a strong hold of the position.

Finding an heir to Franklin will have to take place soon. I am inclined to think one of the names mentioned above will be taking over before the Cardinals look outside of the organization. Money is tight and the talent is in St. Louis already.

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