Cheap Seats

Cards must finally find a fifth starter

The Cardinals have made it through the last three weeks largely using smoke and

mirrors in the place of a fifth starter.

But the friendly schedule gives way this weekend — the Birds won’t have a day off

between June 21 and July 5 — so they will have to find someone to make one, or

possibly two starts before Brad Penny returns from injury.

This could get ugly. The candidates include:

• Blake Hawksworth, whose only start of the season came June 7 against the

Dodgers. He gave up seven hits and six earned runs in only four innings pitched

before being put back in the bullpen.

• Kyle McClellan, who battled hard for a spot in the rotation in spring training only

to lose out to Jaime Garcia. McClellan might be too valuable in the bullpen where

he works as a late-inning righty set-up man to be moved for a start or two.

• Adam Ottavino was 0-2 with a 7.53 ERA when he was called up to fill the same

role earlier in the season. Since being sent back to Class AAA Memphis, he has

made one start, a 6 2/3 innings win over New Orleans in which he allowed two runs

on six hits and a walk. He struck out six.

• Brandon Dickson is 7-4 for Memphis with a 2.90 ERA. The 6-foot-5, 190-pound

righty has 64 strikeouts and 26 walks in 90 innings pitched.

• P.J. Walters was putting up incredible numbers before his earlier call-up to the

majors. But he has struggled since being sent back to Memphis. He lost his last two

starts with 14 hits allowed and seven earned runs scored in 11 innings pitched.

It’s more important that ever that the top three starters — Chris Carpenter, Adam

Wainwright and Garcia — perform well to help the team tread water until

reinforcements can be found.

Silver lining?

On the bright side of the Cardinals pitching woes. ... The team stands to save

about $1.5 million because of Penny’s lengthy absence.

Penny earns $7.5 million in base pay but was to get a $1.5 million option if he

pitched at least 204 innings in 2010, according to Cot’s Baseball Contracts. After

missing what promised to be somewhere between a month and a month and a

half with a back strain, Penny will not get anywhere close to that number.

It was a safe bet for the front office to make that Penny would never see the

extra cash. He has managed to pitch more than 200 innings in a season only

twice in his decade-long career.

Hopefully, the Cardinals will use some of that savings to bolster the bullpen for

the stretch run.

Welcome back

Recently returned St. Louis starter Jeff Suppan has looked promising in two

admittedly brief starts. Although he is still getting his endurance back after being

banished to the bullpen for most of the season by Milwaukee, he sure has helped

the Birds out of a pitching jam by keeping the team in the games he’s pitched so

far. He is 0-0 with a 3.12 ERA. But he’s eaten up some valuable innings and has

shown that he could be the answer to replacing Kyle Lohse, who could miss two

more months after forearm surgery.

I wonder if the Brewers regret giving Suppan his release. They had to pay him

either way, so why let him go help one of your division rivals on their dime? If

Suppan can keep it up, he’s also going to make the Milwaukee coaching staff look

pretty foolish. The longer he was a Brewer, the worse he played. Once he was set

 free he snapped right back into the form that won 16 games a season when he

was a Redbird the first time.