Bottom of the ninth, down by two, two outs, tying run at the plate … stop me if you’ve heard this before.
Things started out beautifully. Three runs in the first should have been a little breathing room for Tyler Lyons, who was looking to bounce back from a less-than-stellar outing in his previous start. The good vibes, though, didn’t last long. With two outs in the top of the second inning, the bottle of rookie magic ran dry. Lyons gave up three runs on two hits and two walks. He was charged with a fourth run after Joe Kelly scrambled in to relieve him, but gave a base hit that scored an inherited runner.
To state the obvious, going 1 2/3 with four runs on three hits, three walks and a strike out didn’t help his rotation case. In fact, Mike Shannon said something about the midnight train to Memphis.
Good thing Joe Kelly’s still around. (Yes, believe it or not, he is.) He came in and threw five complete innings, giving up five hits and striking out three. Basically, he validated the “long reliever” title by doing exactly what a long reliever should … and then some.
The Cardinals came back to tie the game in the way only a Rangers/Cardinals game should be tied — Pete “The Wonder Kid” Kozma doubled, then moved to third on the bunt, then scored on a passed ball. Of course.
And that’s how things would stay until the top of the ninth inning. Trevor Rosenthal has been about as lock-down a reliever as you’ll find. To complement his 0.00 ERA for the month of May, he’s sitting at 0.93 in June … and that’s including last night’s two-run ninth. Things turned tricky after a leadoff single and a sac bunt ended with Ian Kinsler on third and Rosenthal charged with an error. That run plus one more would score to give the Rangers their chance. This time, they capitalized on it. The Cards went quietly in the bottom of the ninth.
So, no late rally. No fireworks. No history made. Good thing it’s just one game in a three-game, regular season series.
The bigger question is, who takes the nearly inevitably available spot in the rotation once Lyons is sent down?
We’ve seen the Wacha experiment. Carlos Martinez has been tossed around as a possibility. Or, is it time to let Kelly fill a more appropriate role and make him a starter again?
If Kelly is the go-to guy, someone will take his place in the bullpen. That could be Lyons — instead of Memphis, he could find himself pitching out of the ‘pen. He’s a lefty, which would be nice, and he’s not named “Mitchell Boggs” so there wouldn’t be a full-on mutiny throughout Cardinal Nation. Plus, it leaves the “long relief” option in tact: should Lyons get it figured out, he’d be available to pitch multiple innings if necessary.
Kelly, on the other hand, has proven in his last two extended outings (one as a starter, the other last night) that he is, in fact, capable of pitching well for several innings. No, he isn’t going to pitch too many complete game shutouts in his career, but that’s not what the Cards need him to do. He’s played the “fill-in starter” role before and done quite nicely. And, well, it seems to me that using him is a much better use of his skills than whatever it is he busies himself with in the bullpen (the other night when I was sitting just to the side of the ‘pen, it was teaching Kevin Siegrist some goofy new handshake that kept him — momentarily — busy).
Then again, I’ve been a proponent of Kelly’s all season.
Martinez is an interesting option. Since making the trip to Memphis, Carlos has started five games, pitched 22.0 innings, given up 6 runs on 22 hits (no homers, though) while walking 9 and striking out 21 for a 2.45 ERA. He was good in his limited appearances with the big club, and is no doubt on the organization’s rotation radar. The question becomes, is he more ready/capable to handle the role than Kelly?
Also, is either one a good enough long-term option?
What do you think? What should Mo do?
Tara is a St. Louis Cardinals reporter for Aaron Miles’ Fastball and a contributor to Around the Horn. Follow her on Twitter @tarawellman.