The St. Louis Cardinals are engaged in a tight battle already in the NL Central, and some sobering news on Friday will make their fight to stay alive in that race a little bit tougher.
Closer Jason Motte will undergo Tommy John surgery after attempting to rehab his right elbow for the past month.
Motte made nine appearances in spring training before experiencing pain in his elbow. An MRI at the time showed that he had strained his flexor tendon. With Motte starting the season on the disabled list, it was hoped that rest and rehab would be enough for him to avoid surgery.
The news probably wasn’t totally shocking, but it does add to the woes that have already piled up for the Cardinals bullpen.
Southpaw Marc Rzepczynski was demoted to the minors on Monday after struggling mightily in his first nine appearances. He posted a 7.88 ERA, allowing opposing batters to hit .361 against him.
One struggling reliever was just the start, however.
Earlier in the day on Friday, the Cardinals sent right-hander Mitchell Boggs to the minors as well, recalling Carlos Martinez to take his place on the roster. Boggs was named to replace Motte as the closer and completely spit the bit before being replaced by Edward Mujica. Boggs goes down to Triple-A after posting an ugly 12.66 ERA in 14 appearances.
The starting rotation for St. Louis has been simply outstanding, leading the majors with a 2.09 ERA heading into action on Friday. But the bullpen has been quite the opposite, posting a league-worst 5.90 ERA with six blown saves.
Tom Haudricourt of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel summed up the state of the Cardinals pitching staff very succinctly.
The dichotomy of the Cardinals is that they have a fantastic starting rotation but a bullpen that has had issues. Pen used to be great.— Tom (@Haudricourt) May 3, 2013
It’s likely that Motte will need the minimum of 12 months to recover from his surgery, meaning he won’t be ready until early to mid-May of next year at the earliest. That’s the best-case scenario.
It may be time for the Cardinals to unleash Trevor Rosenthal.
Rosenthal is Ready to Assume the Mantel
Rosenthal was groomed as a starter by the Cardinals, and for good reason. He has a fastball that touches 100 MPH along with an effective curveball and changeup.
Everything changed for Rosenthal last year when he was called up by St. Louis in July. He made 19 regular-season appearances, posting a 2.78 ERA and 9.9K/9 rate. But during the postseason Rosenthal was electric, striking out 15 of the 30 batters he faced overall. The 100-MPH fastball was in evidence in both the NLDS and NLCS. He simply turned heads.
Rosenthal reported to spring training hoping to win a coveted rotation slot. After giving Shelby Miller a run for his money, Rosenthal settled back into a bullpen role once again to start the season. Thus far he’s posted a 3.18 ERA in 16 appearances with a 12.6 K/9 rate.
Cardinals fans clearly believe Rosenthal is the closer of the future. With Motte’s injury, that future could begin now.
He got into a spot of trouble in the eighth inning of Thursday’s game against the Milwaukee Brewers, but limited the damage to just one run. One fan loved the poise he saw in the 22-year-old.
I really like Trevor Rosenthal's composure here.He's got this.You are watching the makingof a closer.— Bob Netherton (@CardinalTales) May 3, 2013
Another fan agrees.
Cardinals closer Jason Motte (elbow ligament tear) will undergo season-ending Tommy John surgery next week - think Rosenthal long term— The Baums (@TheBaumsFantasy) May 3, 2013
However, here’s the thing—Mujica has picked up seven consecutive saves since taking over for Boggs. Why fix what isn’t broken?
He has been somewhat shaky in his last two outings, giving up runs in both to make things interesting for the Cards. And there’s also the fact that Mujica was absolutely magical in his role last year as a seventh-/eighth-inning reliever, posting a ridiculously low 1.03 ERA in 29 outings following his trade from the Miami Marlins.
While he’s done a stand-up job as the temporary closer, wouldn’t it make more sense for manager Mike Matheny to set his bullpen in a way that maximizes everyone’s potential right now?
Mujica was dominant in his role last year—there’s no reason to think he can’t continue to be effective in that role again, even as the primary setup man. Matheny can use Joe Kelly in long/middle relief and Seth Maness in middle-relief situations as well.
Randy Choate continues as the left-handed specialist and Martinez and Fernando Salas can work in front of Mujica and Rosenthal. Setting more defined roles and moving Rosenthal now as opposed to later in the season simply makes more sense than waiting for a more opportune time.
The Cardinals have already tried just about everything they can to straighten out a bullpen that has been positively putrid. It’s Rosenthal’s time now, and the Cardinals can’t afford to wait any longer to make that decision.
Doug Mead is a featured columnist with Bleacher Report. His work has been featured in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, SF Gate, CBS Sports, the Los Angeles Times and the Houston Chronicle.
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