Feldman: Identifying internal candidates for Cardinals bullpen - KMOV.com

Feldman: Identifying internal candidates for Cardinals bullpen

(Baseball StL) -- The Cardinals bullpen is a mess.  Everyone knows this.  Pretty much everyone in it - save Edward Mujica - is struggling for confidence at this point.  You don’t construct a league worst 5.89 ERA while fully believing in yourself.

GM John Mozeliak launched what could be a series of moves regarding his relievers the other day when he demoted lefty Marc Rzepczynski and his 7.88 earned run average.  Righty Seth Maness was brought up.

But let’s not fool ourselves.  This is just the tip of the iceberg.  There will be changes.  And plenty of them over the course of the next few months.  By September we’ll all look back at the current construction of the ‘pen and think to ourselves ‘wow seemed like a lifetime ago’. 

Figuring out exactly what to do is the tricky part.  Anyone can make changes.  Not anyone can make the right changes.  Bringing someone else up, or trading for an individual, who goes on to resume the status quo around here won’t be doing anyone any good at all.

So, having said that, let’s take a look at some of the internal candidates to provide a boost to the major league bullpen in 2013. 

John Gast

Last year when Jaime Garcia got hurt the Cardinals were in need of a fill in starter.  At the time, Joe Kelly wasn’t exactly at the top of everyone’s list for a promotion.  There were others with big league experience in Memphis who would be more qualified to pitch in a stop gap role.  Well, Kelly was on fire in AAA.  And the Cards decided to go with the hot hand.

For 2013, lefty John Gast is the hot hand.  He isn’t the guy you would’ve picked at the beginning of the year to be the first pitcher promoted when there was a need.  However, when you throw 29 and two-thirds SHUTOUT innings, ya, that kind of changes things.

Gast has held opponents to a .204 average in his five starts.  He’s even struck out a batter an inning.  But here again, he’s yet to give up a run.  Not a single run.  Nearly 30 innings.  No one has crossed home plate off of him.  I don’t care if you’re pitching in little league, that’s incredible.

Gast wasn’t the one promoted the other day (when Maness was) simply because he’d just thrown give innings in Nashville and won’t be available until the end of the week.  But you can bet that it shouldn’t be long before Gast is in St. Louis.  Kelly was the hot hand last year that got a shot.  Gast is this year’s version.  Whether he’d have the same success remains to be seen.

Carlos Martinez

Owner of quite possibly the best arm in the organization, Martinez got a late start to the 2013 season because of visa issues in the Dominican Republic.  But since getting that figured out and arriving in the United States, he hasn’t lost a step.  The 6’0” righty has thrown 11 and two-thirds innings thus far in AA-Springfield and given up just three runs (2.31 ERA) while striking out nine against one walk. 

Martinez has been a starter during his ascent through the minor leagues but there was always a thought in the back of the organization’s mind of moving him to the bullpen once he reached St. Louis.  Well, seeing now that the rotation in the big leagues couldn’t possibly be in better shape and the bullpen really couldn’t be in worse shape, the decision might be getting made for them.

Trevor Rosenthal made the leap from AA to the majors last year.  Don’t bet against Martinez from doing it at some point this year.  Maybe sooner than later.

Michael Wacha

Here’s your wild card boys and girls.  Wacha was the surprise of spring training.  He didn’t surrender a single earned run the entire time he was with the big club and continued that dominance when going back to the minors.  So far in AAA, Wacha’s been just as good.

Five starts.  29 innings.  19 hits.  Just six earned runs (1.86 ERA) while holding opponents to a .184 average against him.  His K/BB ratio (11/15) isn’t all that impressive but, again, the name of the game is keeping the other team from scoring.  And that’s what Wacha’s done thus far.

Now, the argument against promoting the Cards 2012 first round pick is that he had thrown just 21 professional innings since leaving Texas A&M prior to this season.  After 29 innings this year he’s at just 50 since college.  That’s not a whole lot.

Also, Wacha’s a starter.  And he’s going to be a starter here in St. Louis for a long time.  Is it worth taking him out of that starting rhythm with such relative professional inexperience when he’s going to be needed in the rotation sooner than later? 

The argument for promoting Wacha is simple.  We’ve been comparing him to Adam Wainwright - in how they carry themselves on and off the field - since spring training.  Didn’t Wainwright serve an apprenticeship in the big league bullpen in 2006 before moving to a starting role in 2007?  Why not put Wacha on the same career trajectory as the guy we’ve been comparing him to all along? 

No matter if GM John Mozeliak goes with any one, two or all three of these guys, there will be changes in the bullpen.  Seth Maness is not the end all plan to fix what ails them.  There will be more.  But they also have to be right.


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