The St. Louis Cardinals' rotation is struggling, and new pitching coach Dusty Blake could deserve some blame.
As I write this article on April 26, it is the 41st birthday of St. Louis Cardinals pitching coach Dusty Blake. People say that with age comes wisdom, but Blake might not have the right philosophies to jibe with this pitching staff.
When the Cardinals promoted Blake to pitching coach, a multitude of articles popped up describing his ability to marry an analytical approach with an ability to connect with pitchers. One of the Cardinals' biggest focuses upon Blake's promotion was to get pitchers to initiate more swings and misses from opposing batters. While that stat has improved this season because of the bullpen, the team is not adept at putting hitters away with two strikes, ranking 29th in the league in opponent batting average with two strikes.
This issue reared its ugly head again on April 25, this time in relief, when closer Ryan Helsley didn't throw a single fastball to San Francisco Giants catcher Blake Sabol, who is hitting .118 against fastballs and .333 against sliders this season. Sabol sat on the slider and deposited it into the seats for a walk-off home run. Why only four of Helsley's 18 pitches in that outing were fastballs remains a mystery.
Most Cardinals fans' criticism this season has been directed at manager Oliver Marmol, and much of it seems warranted given some questionable decisions and his dust-up with Tyler O'Neill. With Marmol firmly pegged as the scapegoat, Blake has come out mostly unscathed thus far.
Something concerning about Blake is that he rarely comes out to the mound to talk to the pitcher in a tough spot during a game. The team's last pitching coach, Mike Maddux, would always walk out to the mound, grab the pitcher's shoulder with his famous "claw" grip, and ostensibly provide some analysis on the batter and encouraging words for the pitcher.
Blake usually stays in the dugout during mound visits, leaving it up to Marmol and the team's catcher to provide the pitcher with the plan. It's worrying that Blake, someone who supposedly relates well to pitchers and provides analytical insight, isn't a part of these critical meetings.
Adam Wainwright praised Blake before the season, saying Blake helped him with mechanical issues that he had never thought of. However, although Wainwright hasn't pitched in the major leagues yet because of an injury, his rehab starts haven't been promising. On April 25, against Double-A Wichita, Wainwright pitched 4.1 innings and surrendered seven hits and three runs.
There has been significant worry among fans about Wainwright's lack of velocity this year, and while age could have finally caught up with him, it's not out of the question that Blake's mechanical tweaks might have hurt Wainwright's production.
Every baseball fan knew that with the shift effectively banned, there would be more hits and ERAs would rise. That makes strikeouts more important than ever, and the rotation is still having trouble netting those.
I'm not putting all the blame on Blake; the pitchers need to execute their pitches, and the rotation of the Cardinals isn't conducive to today's shiftless game. But the man touted as a pitching maven might not be helping the staff as much as the front office had hoped he would.