Tag Archive | "Tommy John"

Although injured, Jason Motte might hold key to St. Louis Cardinals bullpen

The man who closed out the 2011 World Series championship for the St. Louis Cardinals and saved 42 games for them a season later has not pitched in a competitive situation in more than a year, but he might turn out to be one of the most important pitchers on the 2014 team’s staff.

JasonMotte

Jason Motte tore a ligament in his right elbow during spring training in 2013 and had Tommy John surgery to fix it, but that operation requires about a full year of rehab before a pitcher can return to the mound in a Major League Baseball game.

Motte has thrown bullpen sessions and batting practices in spring training camp this year, but he had the surgery May 7, 2013, so the Cardinals will most likely be about one month into their 2014 regular season before Motte is available.

Indications are Motte will become the eighth-inning setup reliever for closer Trevor Rosenthal once he is fully healthy, and that should make the back end of the team’s bullpen extremely dangerous, if not dominant.

However, the Cardinals likely have to get through the first month of the season, which includes 12 games against their top divisional opponents, the Cincinnati Reds or Pittsburgh Pirates.

Those first several weeks of the season are certainly important, even though the team survived the Mitchell Boggs disaster in April a year ago, and the Cardinals have potentially better pitchers set to again try to fill an April void left by Motte, but those options carry nearly as many questions.

The pitcher who starts the season as the righthanded setup reliever in the bullpen could easily be the one who loses the battle for the fifth and final spot in the starting rotation that has waged between rookie Carlos Martinez and third-year big leaguer Joe Kelly.

Martinez has had an exceptional spring training with a 1.76 earned-run average with nine strikeouts in four starts, while Kelly struggled in his first two starts before he settled down for 5.1 innings Saturday when he allowed one run and struck out three in a 6-2 win over the Atlanta Braves.

Martinez has made a Shelby Miller-like impression on the spring training mounds this year, but he still might be the better choice to start the season in the bullpen than Kelly.

For one, Martinez shined as the eighth-inning pitcher during the 2013 postseason with 11 strikeouts in 12 appearances, while Kelly started four games, including a 5.1-inning outing in Game 3 of the World Series against the Boston Red Sox to lead the Cardinals to a 5-4 victory and one of their two wins in the series.

Kelly was also not particularly stellar as a bullpen pitcher during the first half of the 2013 season after he lost the race for the No. 5 spot in the rotation to Miller in spring training. Kelly’s ERA was at 6.75 through 16 appearances before he got his first start of the season June 5 and gave up one run in 5.2 innings in what turned out to be a 10-3 loss to the Arizona Diamondbacks.

Much of that debate won’t matter on the bullpen side when Motte comes back because he should be able to fill the eighth-inning role and take some pressure off of Martinez, Kelly or anybody else Cardinals manager Mike Matheny wants to use in the meantime.

The challenge then will likely be to get enough appearances in middle relief for whichever pitcher does not get the fifth spot in the starting rotation.

And if that is the biggest problem the Cardinals have once May begins, they will probably be off to a pretty good start.

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Luke Hochevar out for the 2014 season, will have Tommy John surgery

In an otherwise quiet Royals spring training, the team announced Friday relief pitcher Luke Hochevar will have Tommy John surgery to fix ligament damage in his right elbow. A specific time and date for the surgery hasn’t been announced, but it’s likely to happen in the next two weeks.

Luke  Hochevar 2014

 

The injury occurred during last Monday’s game against the Chicago White Sox. Hochevar felt pain in his elbow on his next to last pitch and went to get a medical opinion in Los Angeles. The doctors gave him the option of rehabbing the elbow or Tommy John surgery. Hochevar and the Royals decided surgery was the best option.

Hochevar has a history of elbow problems. In 2010 he suffered a 20-40 percent tear in his ligament and rehabbed the elbow to continue pitching for another four years. But last Monday’s injury tore the ligament another 25 percent and made Tommy John surgery the only real option. Unfortunately for Hochevar, this happened after the Royals had their best season since 1989. With the Royals poised to be playoff contenders, Hochevar will not play an on-field role this season.

In the overall scope of the team and this season, Hochevar’s loss isn’t devastating. The Royals possess an already strong bullpen and Hochevar wasn’t considered as a starting rotation candidate. Wade Davis, a contender as a fifth starter, will take Hochevar’s spot in the bullpen.

The real devastation is to Hochevar. After several seasons as a starting pitcher where he didn’t live up to expectations as the overall number one pick in the 2006 Draft, Hochevar resuscitated his career as a reliever. Last season, Hochevar had a 1.92 ERA and two saves in 58 appearances, striking out 82 batters in 70.1 innings. In the final year of his contract, he’ll be a free agent at the end of the season. For a player in his final year of his contract before free agency, the surgery is an untimely blow.

In hindsight, perhaps Hochevar should have opted for Tommy John surgery back in 2010. He might have recovered enough to be a more effective starter and instead of being a part of the Royals bullpen, he would be one the team’s better starters. But at the time, he struggled as a starter and it’s likely Hochevar and the Royals decided that rehabbing the elbow was the better option. Looking at that now, it appears to be the wrong decision.

Hochevar faces an uncertain future. Instead of getting the chance of showing himself as a good bullpen pitcher before reaching free agency, he will have to sign for less years and money, wherever he ends up. It’s possible we’ve seen the Royals story of Luke Hochevar as a promising number one overall draft pick end with Tommy John surgery and an uncertain baseball future.

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Despite record, St. Louis Cardinals have excellent start to spring training

The St. Louis Cardinals won just twice in the opening week of their 2014 spring training exhibition schedule, but wins and losses matter little in spring training, and the Cardinals, with a 2-4-2 record, have excelled in the aspects of camp that truly matter.

Trevor Rosenthal - photo from FoxSportsMidwest

Trevor Rosenthal – photo from FoxSportsMidwest

Through seven games, the Cardinals players who know they’ll be with the big club on Opening Day have played well, with few exceptions, and those who drew mild concerns have already had a couple of positive moments to potentially give them a comfort level through the balance of March.

As with the regular season, the first week of the spring training schedule typically draws much more scrutiny than any other because people pay more attention since they are excited to have baseball back before the monotony of the season begins and games start to blend together in memory.

The Cardinals have survived with extremely few problems. Starting pitcher Jaime Garcia’s shoulder injury flared up again in the opening week of camp in February, but otherwise the Cardinals have been injury-free with the exception of closer Trevor Rosenthal, who pitched his first inning Saturday and held the Washington Nationals scoreless after he suffered a minor groin injury early in camp.

Elsewhere, the Cardinals have only players who are at or near the end of their rehab from more serious injuries.

Relief pitcher Jason Motte continues to make progress in his return from Tommy John surgery to repair his injured right elbow in 2013, and outfield prospect Oscar Taveras made his much-anticipated first start of the spring Friday against the New York Mets in his return from right ankle surgery, and he promptly doubled on a ball to deep right-centerfield.

Rookie second baseman Kolten Wong also alleviated some fears about his offensive potential with a 3-for-4 day Friday in a 5-5 tie with the Mets.

The Cardinals vaunted young pitching staff has also made it through the first week with only minor road bumps.

Possible No. 5 starter Joe Kelly walked two Detroit Tigers hitters and allowed two runs in 1.2 innings Tuesday, but he also had two strikeouts and figures to be a stable pitcher for the Cardinals in 2014 no matter how they use him, whether as a starter or out of the bullpen.

Probable No. 4 starter Lance Lynn allowed five runs in 1.1 innings Friday in a split-squad game against the Miami Marlins, but any other Cardinals pitchers who allowed more than two runs total through the first week have been minor leaguers or non-roster invitees.

At this point, there is not much drama in Cardinals camp at all. All of the core players have performed well, especially Matt Holliday with his eight hits in nine at-bats, and newly signed shortstop Jhonny Peralta, who hit two homeruns Tuesday against the Tigers.

Those types of performances gives Cardinals management to focus more on the players on the fringe of a spot on the 25-man roster and those who it expects to remain in the minor leagues for at least the 2014 season, if not more.

But that situation also gives those minor leaguers an opportunity to play earlier in games and they therefore get more innings against opposing players who are already established in Major League Baseball.

The Cardinals have built an incredibly strong foundation that is now able to help the group of future Cardinals develop more quickly and maintain the level of excellence the organization has now sustained for four years.

It’s a cycle that builds upon itself, and the Cardinals currently have it as finely tuned as any team in the game.

They can’t get comfortable with what they’ve built, of course, but right now the only storms in Jupiter, Fla., come when the traditional mid-afternoon rain clouds pass over.

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Now is the time for Kansas City Royals’ Duffy

After missing much of the year recovering from Tommy John surgery, it appears that Danny Duffy is ready to claim a spot in the Kansas City Royals’ rotation for the rest of this season and possibly next season as well.

DannyDuffy

Duffy, who has replaced the struggling Wade Davis in the starting rotation, shut down the Twins in his latest start. He pitched 6.2 innings, allowing just five hits and no runs, while striking out seven. Perhaps the most important stat from that start, however, was that Duffy did not allow a walk. It was the first start in his career that he didn’t issue a free pass.

The knock on Duffy has always been his lack of control. And pitchers that come back from Tommy John surgery tend to struggle finding a feel for the strike zone initially. In his only other two starts this season, Duffy walked two batters in 3.2 innings and three batters in 6 innings.

In Duffy’s three years pitching in the majors, he has a walk rate of 4.5/9. While the walks tend to pile up for the talented southpaw, he has always shown strike out potential, with a strike out rate of 8.0/9 for his career.

Duffy was drafted in the third round of the 2007 draft and coming into the 2011 season, he was ranked as the 68th best prospect in baseball according to Baseball America. So the potential has always been there.

The 6-foot-3 lefty spent six years in the minor leagues, earning 30-16 record, with an impressive 2.88 ERA and 1.15 WHIP. His minor league K/9 is 10.6 and his BB/9 is 3.0, considerably less than his 4.5 mark in the majors.

Duffy debuted in 2011, starting 20 games and finishing with a 4-8 record and a 5.64 ERA. He showed improvement in 2012 before his injury. He started six games and recorded a 3.90 ERA.

While the Tommy John injury delayed his development, Duffy appears to be back on track. He has a chance to show that he is a big part of the Royals’ future. If he can finish this season strong and continue to improve with his control, he should lock up a spot in next year’s starting five and perhaps beyond.

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Matt Harvey Can Find Answers In Adam Wainwright

The following excerpt is from my latest article for Yahoo! Sports on the Yahoo Contributor Network.  You can read the entire article by clicking here.

MattHarvey

COMMENTARY | The New York Mets were delivered a substantial blow to their future when they found out that Matt Harvey has a partial tear of his UCL, an injury that may require the infamous Tommy John surgery. Surgery could put Harvey on the shelf for the entirety of the 2014 season and impact his effectiveness for even longer. The St. Louis Cardinals and Adam Wainwright can provide a solid road map for Harvey and the Mets to follow.

Wainwright has been down the road that Harvey now faces. A partial tear of the UCL does not ensure that Tommy John surgery is necessary. It can be handled through rehabilitation and surgery can be delayed. It is a slippery slope, but one that Wainwright’s career is familiar with.

The partial tear
Wainwright suffered a partial tear of the UCL very early on in his career. He was able to continue pitching at a very productive level for over five years from the initial diagnosis. Other pitchers have tried to go the route of rehab with little-to-no success but Adam Wainwright proves that it is not impossible. Harvey may not see any significant time lost beyond the 2013 season.

Recovery time varies
It was early 2011 when Wainwright realized he did not feel right and was headed for surgery. The typical diagnosis can project almost a year-and-a-half recovery time for most pitchers. Wainwright surprised everyone when his rehabilitation from surgery was moving forward at a pace that had him throwing from a mound by the end of 2011. He showed up to spring training in 2012 ready to go and opened the season as a member of the rotation, just over 12 months removed from surgery.

That first season back is different
Once Wainwright was back on the mound, expectations were high and Cardinal fans were convinced that their ace had returned. While Wainwright’s first season back was successful by most accounts, it was not the season he is capable of that we are seeing in 2013. In 2012, Wainwright was able to throw over 198 innings and strikeout hitters at a pace similar to his career numbers before the surgery. He walked more hitters than normal, did not work as deep into games, and struggled with his command occasionally. He was back on the mound but he wasn’t completely back to normal.

Finish reading how the Wainwright Road Map can help Mets fans know what’s ahead by clicking here.

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Difficult Start To Second Half Could Help St. Louis Cardinals In October

The St. Louis Cardinals have unquestionably played their worst baseball of the season the past three weeks, going 4-11 against the four best teams in the National League, but that rough stretch could be a large dose of the medicine the team needs to be ready for the playoffs.

MikeMathenyArguing

Despite the awful finish to July and start to August, the Cardinals still entered play Saturday in the first wild-card spot and 6.5 games from falling out of a playoff position. Therefore, they have little reason to stress over making the playoffs, but a little frustration could add an edge any team needs to succeed in the postseason.

Sure, the Cardinals had their fair share of injuries during the first half of the season. Starting pitcher Chris Carpenter never recovered from his arm injury, closer Jason Motte underwent Tommy John surgery during spring training, Jaime Garcia had season-ending shoulder surgery in May and Jake Westbrook missed significant time while on the disabled list, but none of those problems were big enough to keep St. Louis from jumping out to the best record in Major League Baseball.

The Cardinals cruised to a 57-36 record in the first half while primarily playing teams that are not going to come anywhere close to making the playoffs. Their combined 28-11 record against the Milwaukee Brewers, Houston Astros, Miami Marlins, San Diego Padres and San Francisco Giants largely accounts for why the team was more than 20 games above .500 by the All-Star Break.

They began the second half of the season 5-1 in six games against the lowly Padres and Philadelphia Phillies, who were each 11 games under .500 heading into play Saturday, but then they went out to play the good teams in the National League.

And they got smoked.

The Atlanta Braves, Pittsburgh Pirates, Cincinnati Reds and Los Angeles Dodgers would fill out the postseason bracket along with the Cardinals if the season ended anytime soon, and those teams won 11 of 15 games against St. Louis.

Of course, catcher Yadier Molina went on the disabled list with a sprained right knee less than a week into that stretch and that has certainly affected the offense considering he was second in the league with a .330 batting average when he got hurt.

Yet, the Cardinals’ problems have been bigger than just Molina’s absence. The team has hit .260 since the All-Star break, which is 16 points lower than it hit before the break.

The pitching staff’s earned-run average has ballooned from 3.40 to 3.98 in the second half as the team struggles to mix and match starters to fill in gaps left by an intense schedule and more injury problems such as Shelby Miller’s sore elbow that could cause him to miss a start after he took a line drive directly off it on the second pitch of his outing Wednesday against the Dodgers.

But more than anything, the team needs to relearn how to win, particular against good teams it will likely face in the playoffs.

Remember, the 2013 Cardinals are a young team. They have a second baseman (Matt Carpenter) and shortstop (Pete Kozma), who are in their first seasons at those positions at the major-league level, and they have used 11 rookie pitchers. All but four of those 13 players were on the postseason roster in 2012 and many had never spent a day in the big leagues until earlier this season.

Also, every team, good or bad, goes through a rough patch in their season. The 2006 World Series championship Cardinals team lost eight games in a row in late June, and the 2011 world championship team lost seven in a row in early June, along with a 3-8 stretch in mid-August before it caught fire through the rest of the season.

The 2013 team had not had a losing streak of more than three games in a row at any point before the seven-game losing streak a couple of weeks ago. The team had battled around injuries, but it had yet to develop the resilience that only a stretch of losing baseball can provide.

Plus, the team now knows the level of play required to compete with the best teams in the league.

It certainly isn’t fun for Cardinals fans to watch their team struggle, but the recent run of losses seemingly night after night could help the team develop the mental and emotional toughness it will need to make a run at the 2013 World Series championship.

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Here Comes Duffy

The Kansas City Royals were poised to make it “Our Time” in 2012 before star pitcher Danny Duffy found his way to Tommy John surgery.  The 2013 Royals, who are now four games back of both the division and the wild card, have suddenly taken on a successful feel.  Danny Duffy is set to return.

Photo Courtesy of Minda Haas

Photo Courtesy of Minda Haas

May 13, 2012 would be the most recent time that Danny Duffy, once believed to be the future ace of the ballclub, would take the mound as a Kansas City Royal.  Not long after that, it was determined that Duffy would require “Tommy John” surgery and his season plus most of the next one, would be lost.

Duffy would begin the long process of recovery.  Physical therapy would lead to soft tossing a ball.  Eventually, playing catch on level ground and long toss would assist the young lefty in building up the strength that he needed to get back on the mound.  On May 26, 2013, just over a year since his last pitch, he would throw his first one in a AA rehab assignment with the Northwest Arkansas Naturals.  The initial outings were short but productive, seeing Duffy rack up 15 strikeouts in his first three appearances, spanning just 10 innings, while only walking four.  He would allow 12 hits but would limit his early opponents to five earned-runs.  He was on his way to AAA Omaha to continue his work with the Stormchasers.

Success was moderate but noticeable as he continued his walk back to the majors.  His second appearance in Omaha on June 10 would be his worst yet, yielding seven runs on seven hits and two walks without striking out a batter.  He would only last two-and-one-third of an inning and many started to wonder if he was rushing back.  His next start would only last three innings, allowing two runs on four hits and three walks, though he would strike out five this time around.  Concerns began to mount.

Concerns were laid to rest shortly thereafter as Duffy proved that those two outings would be the shortest of his season, never failing to reach five innings again through his next eight starts.  He would never walk more than three batters the rest of the season, strike out fewer than four hitters only one time, and never yield more than four runs, which he only did twice.  His season reached a pinnacle as he made one more rehab start at AA on July 17.  That day, Duffy would last five-and-one-third of an inning, striking out a season best 13 batters and walking only one.

Duffy would return to AAA to make two more starts, both impressive, and seemingly rounded out his minor league stint for 2013.

Duffy’s season thus far has given seen him surrender seven home runs, walk 27, strikeout 77, surrender 59 hits and allow opposing batters to hit .250 against him over 64 innings pitched.

Tomorrow, August 7, 2013 is opening day for Danny Duffy.  He will return to the mound at Kauffman Stadium for the first time in almost 15 months.  He will take the ball as the starter for the Royals in the middle of a playoff run and look to solidify the rotation.

Duffy is back.

Bill Ivie is the editor here at i70baseball.
You can talk baseball with him on Twitter or read more of his St. Louis Cardinals analysis on Yahoo!.

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Second half story lines for the Royals

The Royals needed the All-Star break to refresh and regroup after losing five straight games. Kansas City now has a record of 43-49 and sits eight games behind the first place Tigers. The second half of the season should offer up many story lines for the Royals. Here are a few worth highlighting:

Eric Hosmer Savior

Can Eric Hosmer continue his hot hitting?
After a very slow start, especially in the power department, Hosmer has turned around his season in a big way. Over the past month, Hosmer is swinging a hot bat. He is hitting .317 with 7 home runs, 16 RBI and 16 runs. The 7 home runs are significant because Hosmer didn’t hit his second homer until June 13. The Royals are currently a below average offensive team (24th in runs scored and 29th in home runs) and they will count on Hosmer to provide a resurgence in the second half.

Will Billy Butler rediscover his power stroke?
Butler had a breakout year in 2012, clubbing a career-high 29 homers and driving in 107 runs. The big DH has only 8 home runs and 49 RBI before the All-Star break and his batting average is down to .271. Butler has three seasons with a batting average over .300 and is a .297 lifetime hitter, so his average should see a boost in the second half. But the question is whether his power will return or if 2012 was just an anomaly. Before last season Butler was known as more of a doubles hitter than a home run masher. His previous high in home runs was 21 in 2009. As mentioned previously, the Royals are second to last overall in home runs. If they want to move up in this category, their clean up hitter will need to pick up his pace.

Will Danny Duffy join the starting rotation?
Duffy is currently rehabbing from the Tommy John surgery he underwent in June of 2012. On Wednesday, Duffy fanned 13 batters in 5.1 innings for Double-A Northwest Arkansas. Duffy is clearly talented enough to earn back a spot in the rotation, and there is an opportunity with Bruce Chen now in the fifth spot. The question is really whether Duffy will make a complete comeback from the surgery and become the promising pitcher he was before the operation.

Is Wade Davis better off in the bullpen?
It’s no secret that Davis has struggled as a starting pitcher this year. After coming over from Tampa Bay in the off-season, the Royals had high expectations for the right-hander. So far he has disappointed. His ERA is approaching 6.00 and he is 4-8 in the first half. Davis had a career year with Tampa Bay in his 2012 role as a reliever. He appeared in 54 games, all in relief, and pitched to a 2.43 ERA and posted a career-high 11.1 K/9. He clearly has the skills to be effective pitching out of the bullpen. If the Royals want to make the move, it could be a major shot in the arm for what is already a very good bullpen.

Will anyone emerge at second base?
The Royals just optioned Johnny Giavotella to Triple-A Omaha after what was basically a 10-game audition. Giavotella was not impressive in his limited time with the Royals, posting a line of .210/.289/.265. The choices now at second base include Elliot Johnson, Chris Getz and Miguel Tejada. Johnson has flashed good speed this season, with 12 stolen bases in the first half. He stole 18 last year in limited action with the Rays. His batting average is not good (.210), however, so he will need to improve in that regard. Getz isn’t hitting much better at .214 for the year. Tejada has only started seven games at second base this year, but is the best hitter of the three, sporting a .278 batting average. Three of his last six starts have come at second base though, so he might be settling in as the top option.

Will the group of Lorenzo Cain, Jarrod Dyson and David Lough be enough in the outfield?
Alex Gordon is locked in to the job in left field, but the other two outfield spots are going to be split between Cain, Dyson and Lough. With Jeff Francoeur no longer on the roster, this outfield trio will be counted on in the second half. Cain is an intriguing source of speed with some power, while Dyson is an even better source of speed with virtually no power. Lough is more of a pure hitter with some speed and power. One, or even two, of these three will need to have a strong second half if the Royals want to be competitive this year.

Will the Royals be buyers or sellers?
The Royals should be active at the deadline one way or the other. If they can hold their ground or move up in the standings, they could become buyers. Because they were so aggressive in the off-season, it may be tough to sell assets at the break. There are plenty of players that could fetch good returns, but the Royals saw themselves as contenders after a busy off-season and might be reluctant to give up on the season. The schedule leading up to the July 31 trade deadline includes a three game set with the Tigers, four home games against the Orioles, three road games against the White Sox and two road games against the Twins. The first seven games will be tough and could be key in determining the Royals’ course of action. One option if they do become sellers would be to target a big return for current closer Greg Holland. Holland could return the Royals a package of top-tier prospects and they have depth in the back-end of the bullpen with Tim Collins, Aaron Crow and Kelvin Herrera. If things go well after the break, the Royals could look for an upgrade at second base (there have been some Chase Utley rumors) or to add another arm for the starting rotation.

Can the Royals make a move in the AL Central?
The Royals have a big opportunity to quickly make up some ground in the division. They open the second half with a three games series with the Tigers at Kauffman Stadium. If they want to contend in the Central, the Royals will have to catch up to the Indians as well, who currently sit 1.5 games behind the Tigers. In order to climb the standings over two very good teams, the Royals will need to make some savvy moves (whether buying or selling). They will also need many of the previously mentioned story lines to end up in their favor. It should be an exciting second half of the season and the Royals will play a role in deciding the outcome of the AL Central. Whether it is as a contender or as a spoiler remains to be determined.

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Duffy begins rehab ahead of Naturals Homestand

Duffy_Danny 5668.jpg

SPRINGDALE, Ark. – The Naturals’ parent club, the Kansas City Royals announced  that starting pitcher Danny Duffy will begin his Major League rehab assignment with the Naturals on Sunday against the San Antonio Missions.

Duffy is expected to be with the Naturals for their upcoming homestand that begins on Tuesday May 28th.

Last season the hard-throwing lefthander made the Royals starting rotation out of Spring Training and made six starts, going 2-2 with a 3.90 ERA, striking out 28 batters in 27⅔ innings, before being placed in the Disabled List on May 14 with a left elbow injury and undergoing Tommy John surgery on June 13.

A major contributor on the Naturals Texas League Championship team, Duffy made two post-season starts and earned the win in the opening game of the Texas League Championship Series against the Midland RockHounds. Duffy went 5-2 with a 2.95 ERA in seven regular season starts with the Naturals in 2010.

Duffy is the second former Natural to return to the team on a rehab assignment, joining Greg Holland who returned to Northwest Arkansas for two games in 2012.

The Southern California-native will wear number 41 for the Naturals. The Naturals roster is at the Texas League limit of 25 players, plus Duffy who is on a Major League rehab assignment.

The Northwest Arkansas Naturals are the Double-A Texas League Affiliate of the Kansas City Royals and proud host of the 77th Annual Texas League All Star Game. The Naturals play at state-of-the-art Arvest Ballpark in Springdale, AR. For more information including statistics, ticket options, and more, please visit NWANaturals.com, and follow us on Twitter @NWANaturals and Facebook.com/Naturals.

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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.

Motte I70

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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