ST. LOUIS (AP) -- Hard-throwing Mitchell Boggs is perfect in his three save chances since the St. Louis Cardinals demoted Ryan Franklin last week.
Heading into a six-game trip that begins Tuesday at Houston, manager Tony La Russa insists nothing has changed in the pecking order. The official line from the top: Franklin's responsibilities are still being reduced to help get him back on track.
"Just watch the game," La Russa said. "We're trying not to use him at the end of games but he's part of our bullpen."
La Russa is obviously saving Boggs for the last three outs but won't anoint the right-hander, who has eight consecutive scoreless appearances since allowing two runs on opening day.
Boggs can be intimidating with a mid-90s fastball and has 15 strikeouts in 12 1/3 innings. He better fits the typical closer mold than the 38-year-old Franklin, who before this season had been successful pitching to contact in hopes of inducing ground ball outs.
Boggs just keeps his head down and waits for the call.
"I know what my role on this team is and that's to show up and prepare myself to pitch at any point every single night," Boggs said after finishing off the Reds in a 3-0 victory on Sunday.
The 27-year-old Boggs was a fifth-round pick in 2006 out of Georgia, and played one season of college football at Chattanooga. Last year was his first full season and he made 61 appearances, mostly in middle relief.
So farm he's risen to the top of a relief corps that aside from Franklin is off to an impressive start with five ERAs below 2.00.
Jason Motte, the likely backup closer option while the situation is in flux, has a fastball in the high 90s and has six straight scoreless outings. Rookie righty Eduardo Sanchez has 12 strikeouts in seven scoreless innings, Fernando Salas has permitted one run in six innings.
Trever Miller, the lone left-hander, leads the team with nine appearances and has a 1.86 ERA, although he walked Jay Bruce with the bases loaded for a blown save Saturday.
"I think we all believe we can be a strength of this team," Boggs said. "There's a lot of guys who are really talented, I don't see why we can't be a strong point."
La Russa has always asserted that closer is perhaps the most important job on the team, and Boggs is getting a good sense of the ninth-inning spotlight.
"You realize the game can be over if you do your job," he said. "You're trying to go after guys with everything you've got."
Franklin blew four of his first five save chances, a stretch that looks much worse because of two games in which the defense let him down. But he also has a 7.88 ERA, has surrendered four homers in eight innings while allowing 15 base runners.
Franklin shaved off half his distinctive chin beard a week ago to change his luck and sported a clean-shaven look for the finale of a six-game homestand on Sunday. So far, it's been more of the same for a pitcher who was 27 for 29 last year and an All-Star in 2009.
On an 0-2 count, Franklin gave up a tie-breaking, two-run single in the eighth inning to Miguel Cairo in a 5-3 loss to the Reds on Saturday. After retiring four straight batters in the seventh and eighth in the first game of a doubleheader on Wednesday, Franklin gave up a long homer to Laynce Nix and got booed by the home crowd fans, prompting him to lash out and then apologize by the end of the day.
Notes: Albert Pujols has now played a full season against the Reds for his career, and in 162 games is batting .355 with 44 home runs and 136 RBIs, along with 50 doubles and 22 intentional walks. Teammate Lance Berkman has numbers against the Reds from his years in Houston that rival that production, however, with a .323 average, 49 homers and 137 RBIs in 155 games. ... Lefty Jaime Garcia is 3-0 with a 1.44 ERA heading into Tuesday's start against Bud Norris (1-1, 4.91), who's 5-1 with a 2.27 career against the Cardinals. ... After a 1-for-10 series against the Reds, Matt Holliday's hitting .400, although he doesn't yet qualify for the league leaders after missing a week following an appendectomy.
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)