Get ready for the St. Louis Cardinals to play musical chairs

Posted by Scott Wuerz on June 10, 2013 

The Cardinals are going to face some tough questions this week.

But at least they're the good kind of tough questions.

They revolve around how the roster is going to be reshaped to make room for Jake Westbrook to return to the starting rotation after a second successful rehab stint over the weekend.

One presumed solution that pitching coach Derek Lilliquist has discussed publicly involved sending lefty call-up Tyler Lyons to the bullpen to serve as the second southpaw reliever. That was a role that was in need of a player when Marc Rzepczynski was shipped out to Class AAA Memphis a few weeks ago.

But the Cardinals efforts to patch holes in the pitching staff last week resulted in the promotion of Kevin Siegrist to the major leagues. And all Siegrist has done on the job is strike out Joey Votto and Jay Bruce to kill a rally as the highlight of 3 1/3 scoreless. The guy has struck out eight of 10 people he has retired at the big league level while allowing one hit and one walk -- an intentional pass of Brandon Phillips between Votto and Bruce.

It's pretty tough to demote Siegrist on his incredible hot streak to make room for Lyons.

But, then again, is it fair to demote Lyons? 

With a 2-2 record and a 2.52 ERA, Lyons has been pretty effective. And he'd actually pitched better than his numbers, a victim of late runs that skewed his stats after he was pretty effective for the bulk of his appearance. He's allowed 20 hits in 25 1/3 innings while walking five and striking out 14.

While his minor league numbers are more typical of what one would expect from a lefty pitcher, his major league statistics further complicate the issue.

Lyons has held right handed batters to a .194 average and a .227 on-base percentage. Lefty hitters, whom southpaw pitchers typically dominate, are hitting .286 against Lyons with a .348 on base percentage. Those numbers are based on 75 righty plate appearances and 23 lefty plate appearances.

So maybe that makes room for three lefty relievers in the Cardinals' seven-man bullpen since Lyons is less of a specialist. He's a guy who could come in and pitch an inning or two without the need to pull him against right handed batters.

If that's the case, Keith Butler might be the odd man out. He's got a 5.06 ERA with five batters walked in 5 1/3 innings pitched. Joe Kelly, who seemed to be in the bullpen dog house based on his infrequent appearances this season, must have impressed with his emergency start during the most recent homestand. He allowed four hits and one earned run in 5 1/3 innings against a pretty good Arizona Diamondbacks lineup. Kelly managed 80 pitches despite the fact that he hasn't logged enough innings to build up his stamina for a long start.

The Cardinals could go another route and send young, five-star prospect Michael Wacha to the minors for more finishing work. But I'm not sure if that's a good idea if the team plans to stick to its limit of 150 innings pitched this season for him.

Wacha has already reached nearly half of that total while he's proved at the Class AAA level that he's got the talent and polish to pitch in the majors. Would it be better to send Wacha back to the minor league coaches and let him make 11 or 12 more starts before shutting him down for the rest of the year. Or would it be smart to let him make a few more starts in the big leagues before transitioning him to the bullpen to finish out the year?

As the season moves through July and August, it's going to be important to have your best players available for the stretch run. And I could see Wacha filling the role from the bullpen that Shelby Miller handled last year.

Whatever solution the Cardinals choose, it's not likely to be the end of the roster shuffle. John Gast ought to be ready to come back pretty soon, adding another name to the mix. And then there is the possibility that Chris Carpenter might make it back to the active roster...

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