Options to Silence the Alarming Bullpen


Alarms are sounding all across Cardinal Nation as the bullpen ERA continues to swell like a bloated tick, and the losses continue to pile up. In 13 Save opportunities, the bullpen has converted 6, has blown 7, and has absorbed 5 losses. If you are keeping track at home, and I imagine that you probably are, the Cardinals bullpen came into today’s series finale against the Buccos sporting a 5.52 ERA, which lands them dead last in the entire major leagues.

Cries of “Do something now, Mo!” are ringing out from the corner of Clark St. and Broadway across the Mississippi River and beyond into the vastness of Cardinal Nation, but it also seems that is the extent of the message carried in the cries.

Do something! Fix this! Make it stop before these blown saves become too much to overcome when the dog days of summer are upon us! The sky is falling! You get the drift.

Undoubtedly, Mozeliak feels the same way. Of course he wants the same things that we, as fans, want. Convert those saves. Get those wins. Maintain a lead and turn it into a stranglehold on the division by playing fundamentally sound baseball from April to October.

Unfortunately, Mozeliak doesn’t live in the fantasy traders realm that a vast majority of fans tend to occupy. He has to have a long term vision for the team that goes outside of 2013. He can’t make a rash decision in April that could take away valuable future assets, because, you see, it’s still early enough in the season that almost all teams are harboring visions of playoff appearances. Therefore, any deal that would be made now would cost the Cardinals much more than one such as last seasons deal that netted them recently named closer Edward Mujica when they traded away positionless Zack Cox. By the way, here’s a great column by Corey Noles over at Bleacher Report about Mujica’s newly found role.

So, where do they turn internally to fix this problem?

A quick glance at the 40 man roster offers the following options: Eric Fornataro, Keith Butler, Kevin Siegrist, Maikel Cleto, Sam Freeman, Victor Marte, Eduardo Sanchez, Jorge Rondon, and Michael Blazek.

Most will remember Cleto, Sanchez, Freeman, and Marte from their appearances with the Cardinals in recent history, but I guarantee we will not see at least 3 of these 4 heading up to the big club any time soon.

Cleto is currently sporting a 14.46 ERA, with 13 BB against 11 K in 9.1 IP at AAA Memphis. Clearly, not the answer, and has no business anywhere near the Cardinals currently volatile bullpen.

Sanchez is currently on the 7 day disabled list, and this alone takes him out of the discussion for promotion.

Freeman is a LH option, but as it currently stands, Choate is doing his job well enough to limit Rzepczynski’s exposure so the Cardinals can probably live with what they have for now. This alone probably keeps Freeman at AAA, but his performance thus far at Memphis provides further reason to keep him at that level. In 11.1 IP, Freeman has given up 9 ER, including 5 in his past 3 games. Sorry, Sam, maybe next time.

Marte struggled in the seasons early going, but has since righted the ship. Since April 13th, he has appeared 6 times, garnering 5 saves and has not allowed a run while striking out 4 and walking only 1. He may be an option should Mozeliak  look to promote one from this group.

That leaves Blazek, Rondon, Butler, Siegrist, and Fornataro, none of whom have any major league experience. I find it inconceivable that Mozeliak would turn to one of these 5 to stop the bleeding at the major league level. Siegrist and Blazek are currently at the AA level. Butler, was recently promoted from AA to AAA and only has 4 IP at AAA. Eliminating those 3 leaves only Rondon and Fornataro as potential options.

Rondon has been knocked around this season giving up 10 hits in 9.1 IP, but limiting his earned runs allowed to only 2. He has 6 strikeouts against 6 walks. He is not the answer.

Fornataro has pitched much better his past 5 appearances posting 5 strikeouts against 1 walk, 4 hits allowed, and only 1 ER allowed. Out of these 5 guys, he appears to be the only feasible option, but again, I just don’t see it happening.

There is one guy at the AAA level that deserves some consideration, but it would require shuffling someone off the 40 man roster to accommodate his promotion, and he has 2 additional factors working against him. John Gast is a LH Starting pitcher that has not allowed a run in 29.2 IP this season. On the surface it appears he wouldn’t be a fit at all just because of his current job description, but I think there is some clear logic that might justify bringing him up.

Feb 24, 2013; St. Louis, MO, USA; St. Louis Cardinals starting pitcher John Gast (76) pitches against the Boston Red Sox at Roger Dean Stadium. The Red Sox defeated the Cardinals, 5-3. Image Credit: Scott Rovak-USA TODAY Sports

First off, he’s obviously pitching very well right now, so his confidence is probably sky high. Secondly, as a starter he has had to face both RH and LH batters to achieve the successful run he is currently enduring. RH batters are hitting just .221 with 26 strikeouts and only 6 walks against him this season. LH batters are hitting a paltry .167 with 3 strikeouts and 1 walk against him this season. Oh, and he also has a pretty well publicized pickoff move that he once tutored Jaime Gacia on back in 2011. Again, the roadblock here is twofold: He isn’t on the 40 man roster currently, and he is a starting pitcher. Would you make room for Gast on the 40 man roster, and would you alter his routine and make him a reliever at this point to help the big club?

One thing is for certain: The current pen isn’t getting the job done, and Mozeliak is going to have to do something if they keep hemorrhaging losses into the middle of May. While it’s true the season is a marathon and not a sprint, no sane world class champion runner wants to give his opposition too big of a head start towards the finish line without putting up some sort of a fight.