The St. Louis Cardinals are going to have to be very creative in the way they manage their pitching staff this year.
But, if they do things wisely, they can use quantity to enhance the quality of their over-stocked starting rotation.
Carlos Martinez, Adam Wainwright, Micheal Wacha, Lance Lynn, Mike Leake, Alex Reyes, Luke Weaver and Trevor Rosenthal would all like to have a spot in the starting rotation in 2017. Having eight candidates for five jobs might be a recipe for making three people angry under normal circumstances. But, because of several reasons -- including injuries of veterans and the need to protect young arms -- the Redbirds AND their pitchers might be better off with a starting rotation time share.
Wacha twice in the past three years has broken down because of a repetitive use injury in his pitching shoulder. Lance Lynn is in his first year back from Tommy John surgery and has thrown very little since he’s healed which means he is unlikely to be conditioned to throw 200 innings in the upcoming season. Wainwright has a lot of miles on his arm and would likely benefit from a break now and then. Reyes has never thrown more than 120 innings in a season, a situation that was exacerbated last year when he earned a 60-day suspension for using marijuana.
Instead of riding those players until they break down while trying to get 200 innings out of each of them, wouldn’t the Cardinals be better off trying to divide the innings between them in chunks of 125-150 frames each?
I’m sure it wouldn’t be a popular move with fans. But a good place to start would be putting Reyes in the St. Louis bullpen – or better yet, the Class AAA Memphis bullpen in 2017. Like many fans, I’d love to see Reyes turn into a young Dwight Gooden starting with the first day of spring training.
But, not only do the Birds want to keep the innings off Reyes’ arm so he could be a weapon in the second half of the season and, hopefully, a post-season run. They know, if he stays in the minors for 55 days in the upcoming season, St. Louis will preserve a year of control of Reyes’ rights. Either way, it would be great if Reyes threw about 60 or so innings the first three and a half months of the year. Then the Cardinals can start stretching Reyes out about the time of the All-Star Game and give him a few starts beginning near the end of July.
How the rest of the pitchers are used depends on where they are physically when they get to spring training. Assuming they’re healthy, Martinez and Wainwright are the number one and two starters and will be expected to pitch every fifth day. In the second year of a five-year contract, it’s likely that Leake will get every chance to pitch in a third rotation slot.
I’ve written before that, in an ideal world, I’d like to see Rosenthal resume his role as closer. He seemed as if he sorted out whatever physical and mechanical issues he had in the middle of last season by the year’s end. If he’s well and effective, he’s the best option to finish games. If the Cardinals are enamored with the idea of using Rosenthal for multiple innings a la Andrew Miller, why not use him for multiple innings at the end of the game instead of in the middle? Bruce Sutter used to pitch two or more innings to close games all the time. It was a great weapon to have.
If that’s the case, if I was manager Mike Matheny, I would put Lynn, Wacha and Weaver in a rotation for the other two spots. It could be managed by either having one pitcher skip every third start or else the games could be handled like spring training contests and the skipper could tell the starter he gets 75 pitches, maximum, not matter what. Then, he’s pulled and the odd man out of could swoop in to piggyback the start and bridge the game to the bullpen.
The best-case scenario for the Cardinals is to get all eight pitchers to the start of September healthy, fresh and effective. Then they can let the internal competition begin and the five hottest, most reliable hurlers are the starters and the other guys move down to the bullpen to bolster the relied corps. Too many times over the past few years, the Cardinals have steamrolled through the spring and summer months only to crash and burn when the calendar turns to September and October.
Counting on trading for elite rotation help is almost impossible these days with the wild card format making general managers across the majors feel as if their team is still in contention. The intense demand and lack of supply has superheated the in-season trade market. So, keeping the players you’ve got in prime condition is the key.
It’s easy to ride a hot hand into the ground if you’re not careful. But the Birds, with a little creativity, can concoct a formula to use their starting pitching that will keep everyone as sharp, rested and healthy as possible all season long.