Is It Time To Worry About The Cardinals Bullpen?

Spring training games don’t count, but spring performances are what determine the final St. Louis Cardinals roster that will take the field on Opening Day in Cincinnati March 31. And some spring pitching performances have been awfully unpleasant.

collage318Now it’s true that pitchers sometimes work on specific pitches and take risks they wouldn’t otherwise do when the games count — Adam Wainwright focused just on his curveball in Sunday’s game against the Mets, for example. But is it time to get concerned about the bullpen — or at least some components of it?

Looking at all 30 MLB teams this spring, the Cardinals team ERA through yesterday is 6.27 — tied for last in baseball with the Texas Rangers. Cardinals pitchers have given up 105 earned runs (108 runs total) in 150 2/3 spring innings.

Break that down to starters vs. relievers and the picture changes considerably. The ERA for Cards starters is 3.63, which is fourth-best in the National League and ninth-best in MLB. And for the relievers, it’s 7.66 — not surprisingly last, but more than a full run worse than the team directly ahead of them, the Rangers at 6.18, and two runs worse than the NL team ahead of them, the Padres at 5.42.

Since we need a little good news after that, let’s look at those who are excelling — beginning with closer Trevor Rosenthal. Nothing to worry about with him. After being slowed by a strained groin in late February that kept him from appearing in a game until March 8, he’s now pitched five total innings and allowed one earned run on a homer while striking out five and walking three for an ERA of 1.80. No saves, but no save opportunities yet either.

Having nearly identical stats — same number of games, innings, earned run on a homer, ERA and strikeouts — although with two saves in two opportunities is Kevin Siegrist. No worries there.

Randy Choate has pitched 5 2/3 innings over six games and allowed just two hits while striking out six and walking two. Hard to improve on an ERA of 0.00.

Of last year’s bullpen, those are the really good so far in spring. Sam Freeman has been good, with a 3.18 ERA in six appearances.

Now to the bad and ugly numbers.

Seth Maness: 9.39 ERA with seven appearances and 7 2/3 innings. Eight runs (all earned) on 14 hits with three walks, seven Ks and just one GIDP. Opponents are hitting .400 off him.

Keith Butler: 9.82 ERA with 7 1/3 innings in seven games. Eight earned runs on 11 hits, one homer allowed, five walks and five strikeouts. Opponents are hitting .379.

Tyler Lyons: 14.63 after yesterday’s game in which he gave up five runs on five hits in 1 1/3 innings to the Red Sox. Overall, he’s thrown eight total innings in six games and given up 13 earned runs on 14 hits with three homers, four walks and six Ks. Opponent’s batting average is .368 — and all this with three of his six appearances being scoreless.

Now, just to prove you can play with numbers and have them say things that aren’t necessarily true is the case of Lance Lynn. He’s adding to the inflated relief numbers and helping the starter numbers with the 1 1/3 innings he pitched on March 7 against the Marlins, when he followed Adam Wainwright in the game. In his two starts, he’s allowed no earned runs in six total innings and is at the top of the rotation with that sparkling 0.00 ERA. In that lone relief outing on March 7, he gave up five earned runs on six hits with one walk and finds himself at the bottom of the relief corps with an ERA of 33.75.

Lynn, of course, is going to be part of the rotation and not the bullpen so we don’t need to concern ourselves about that. But should we be worried about how Maness, Butler and Lyons are doing? Do we need to be worried at all about the bullpen at this stage? There are other pieces — Jorge Rondon, for example, who hasn’t allowed an earned run yet in 6 1/3 innings although he’s give up eight hits, or Pat Neshek, who’s allowed two earned runs in six innings with seven strikeouts — who can step in.

Plus we know that either Carlos Martinez or Joe Kelly will be in the bullpen to start the season, as the battle for the fifth starter continues. Martinez has the better numbers this spring — 1.80 ERA in 10 innings vs. 7.71 in 9 1/3 innings for Kelly — but we saw last fall just how effective and what a weapon he can be in the eighth inning.

And Jason Motte will be returning, as he had more success in his comeback from Tommy John surgery yesterday with an intensified session of throwing batting practice.

Bullpen pieces are flexible, especially with as many available parts as the Cardinals have. Bullpen makeup is so often fluid — look no further than the bullpen on Opening Day 2013 for proof.

So maybe there’s no cause for concern. After all, in 13 days, the stats will read nice, shiny zeroes for everyone.

But it would be nice to have a little more comfort these next two weeks in watching some of those pieces when they’re out on the mound.


Christine Coleman is the lead writer for Aaron Miles’ Fastball. Follow her on Twitter, @CColeman802, or email aaronmilesfastball@gmail.com. Also follow @AMilesFastball for the latest updates and like us on Facebook if you don’t already.

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