When bullpen's burned, pitchers must soldier on

When bullpen's burned, pitchers must soldier on

Credit: AP

St. Louis Cardinals starting pitcher Jaime Garcia throws during the first inning of a baseball game against the Chicago Cubs Friday, June 3, 2011, in St. Louis. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

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by R.B. FALLSTROM

Associated Press

Posted on June 15, 2011 at 8:14 AM

Updated Wednesday, Jun 15 at 8:23 AM

   ST. LOUIS (AP) -- Around and around the bases they went and there was still nothing cooking in the worn-out St. Louis bullpen.

   Young left-hander Jaime Garcia kept serving up the pitches at Colorado, staggering through a six-run first and allowing 12 runs in only 3 1-3 innings for his first loss of the season after a 5-0 start. His ego got clobbered and so did his ERA, climbing from third-best in the National League at 1.98 to 3.28 in that single outing on May 28.
 
   Garcia wasn't the first pitcher asked to take one for the team to help the bullpen rest and he certainly won't be the last. As horrible as his line was, it wasn't as bad as the one for Royals reliever Vin Mazzaro, who gave up a team-record 14 earned runs in 2 1-3 innings on May 16 against the Indians and was sent to Triple-A Omaha moments after the final out.
 
   Kansas City manager Ned Yost said he was trying to save his bullpen.
 
   "When you've got to find nine innings in your bullpen, it can decimate it," Yost said. "There's nothing you can do. This one was ugly. This one wasn't any fun. You just forget this one."
 
   Mazzaro, who has since been recalled and made an effective start, has tried to shrug it off.
 
   "Extremely tough situation," he said. "You have to go out there and attack the zone, try to eat up innings and save the bullpen."
 
   According to STATS LLC, Garcia was among five starters who had allowed at least 10 runs in a game as of late last week. The others were Fausto Carmona of the Indians, Nelson Figueroa of the Astros, Sean O'Sullivan of the Royals, and Brett Anderson of the Athletics.
 
   O'Sullivan was torched by the Rangers for 10 runs in 5 2-3 innings on May 28 at Texas, the same day Garcia was giving it up at Colorado. The Royals leaned on O'Sullivan after the bullpen worked 11 1-3 innings of scoreless relief the previous day in a 14-inning victory.
 
   "It's not fun," O'Sullivan said. "But I had to keep taking the ball and go as hard as I could for as long as I could."
 
   The extra effort doesn't go unnoticed.
 
   "I think it gets everybody excited," Brewers outfielder Corey Hart said., "It's like when a catcher gets crushed and stays in the game or a pitcher might get smoked (by a line drive) and stays in the game; you see guys stand up and fight off the pain, it's encouraging."
 
   Twins left-hander Brian Duensing said he recalls having to suffer through a bad outing in the minors to rest the pen.
 
   "It always seems to happen when you know you're going to have to take one for the team, you end up having a bad day anyway," he said. "I try not to because once you start thinking like that, you try to do too much. Once you start thinking like that, everything's going to really go awry."
 
   Managers know all this, of course.
 
   Cardinals manager Tony La Russa said he had to push Garcia against the Rockies for a few more outs because the bullpen had worked 12 1-3 innings the previous three games with no days off in sight. Pitching coach Dave Duncan said Garcia, and everyone else on the staff, was aware of the unpleasant reality.
 
   "We pushed him," La Russa said. "Didn't want to, but we had to. It's one of the worst situations you can get into, burying a starter."
 
   Duncan said without those 10 outs from Garcia, and the overall fatigue in the bullpen, the Cardinals might not have had enough pitchers to finish the game. They also had eight more games in a row before a day off. Duncan added that it shouldn't have been a surprise to Garcia.
 
   "They know what it's all about," Duncan said. "Anytime they don't give you at least five innings it creates difficulties for the bullpen."
 
   He added: "Sure, I feel for them. But that's the way it is."
 
   When electing to turn a blind eye to the man throwing batting practice meat, those in charge factor in potential future needs as well as innings already logged. In Garcia's case, long man Miguel Batista had pitched two innings the previous day and was unavailable, and the Cardinals couldn't count on deposed closer Ryan Franklin.
 
   "What's ahead, what's behind, too," Duncan said. "What if Franklin goes out there and can't get out of the second inning? Then, you really don't have enough pitchers to pitch the game.
 
   "So, you've got to get as much as you can out of the starter even if it means he gets roughed up."
 
   If it's any consolation, Garcia isn't alone getting tied to the whipping post by the Cardinals.
 
   Jason Marquis took a beating twice in 2006, surrendering 13 runs in five innings against the White Sox on June 21, and then five starts later twisting in the wind at home while the Braves tattooed him for 12 runs in five innings.
 
   St. Louis had lost 15-3 the previous day, taxing the relief corps, and it was up to Marquis to produce as many outs as possible. He never really recovered, finishing 14-16 with a horrid 6.02 ERA, and wasn't in the rotation during the Cardinals' improbable run to a World Series title.
 
   The prognosis is much better for Garcia. After getting an extra day of rest, plus a pep talk from La Russa, he allowed one run in eight innings in a victory over the Cubs last week.
 
   "I never really doubted myself, I never really got sad," Garcia said. "The way I was thinking was that's in the past. I know I have the stuff."
   ------
   AP Sports Writers Dave Campbell, Colin Fly and Doug Tucker contributed to this report.
   (Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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