ST. LOUIS (AP) -- It's way too early to say the St. Louis Cardinals have a closer controversy.
But it's also safe to say the team has developed a nice backup option for 37-year-old Ryan Franklin when he struggles or is done altogether.
Hard-throwing Jason Motte got the last three outs in a game over the weekend after Franklin faltered against Oakland by allowing a walk and two hits to open the ninth inning. Motte's repertoire has grown beyond 98 mph fastballs thrown in the general direction of home plate since last season, when he was replaced as the closer after one blown save.
"I feel like I'm in a little bit more in control of myself," Motte said. "I threw a lot of fastballs but I feel like I'm locating them a little bit better. Last year, it was like I was going to throw it as hard as I can and hope it's a strikeout or hope he doesn't hit it."
The 27-year-old Motte still throws plenty hard, judging from his 35 strikeouts in 29 innings. His outing Saturday night against Oakland was all fastballs.
But he's also embraced pitching coach Dave Duncan's edict of pitching to contact and not always go for the strikeout.
"If you get them out, it's fun," he said. "If you go out there and throw all fastballs and get hit around, you guys are wondering why I'm throwing fastballs."
The Cardinals had a choice of closers last summer in Motte, Franklin and Chris Perez, who was dealt to the Indians.
Franklin was an All-Star last year, earning a two-year contract extension that could enable him to finish his career in St. Louis, and has only one blown save in 14 chances. He doesn't throw nearly as hard as many closers, relying on pinpoint accuracy, but manager Tony La Russa and Duncan judged that was missing against the Athletics.
Motte believed he and lefty Trever Miller were up in the bullpen after Franklin walked leadoff man Conor Jackson on five pitches to start the ninth, or perhaps after ball one to the next hitter.
Franklin was stunned the hook came so early and the emotions lingered afterward.
"Yeah, I'm surprised. I think anybody would be surprised," he said. "That's just the ego in me, the competitiveness. You want to finish what you started, and I think any major league player would tell you that.
"Starters, they leave runners on they don't want to come out, either. If you don't have that, then you don't need to be here."
But he also couldn't argue much with the decision. The walk to Jackson was only the fourth in 30 innings for Franklin, who second-guessed himself for trying to be "too fine."
"I've been here four years and it ain't the way I pitch," Franklin said. "He made the right move. I'm frustrated that I didn't finish it off, but we won and Motter came in and did a good job."
La Russa planned to soften Franklin's sting and point out he's yanked a Hall of Fame closer if it's not working.
"I'm going to tell him, if you remember 1996 I took out (Dennis) Eckersley a couple of times and brought in (Tony) Fossas," La Russa said. "He just didn't look right."
Franklin endured what La Russa often refers to as a hiccup.
"I felt good, I felt really good," he said. "Just didn't have it. You have bumps in the road every once in a while."
The Cardinals liked what they saw from Motte, even if he allowed an RBI single before closing it out.
"That's another big step forward," La Russa said. "For him, and for us."
(Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)