Cheap Seats

Cardinals need bullpenners to get better

It's difficult to figure out what to do with the Cardinals when even the things the team thought it could count on start to fail.

When J.C. Romero flamed out in the bullpen, it wasn't much of a surprise. The guy has struggled the last few years to regain his previous success and his signing was something of a fishing expedition. 

But it's no Romero or the recently departed Scott Linebrink that are killing the bullpen -- and the team as a whole. 

Marc Rzepczynski was fantastic in the post-season last year after being picked up by the Cardinals in the Colby Rasmus trade. He allowed one run and one hit in 7 1/3 innings worked during the National League Championship Series and World Series. He owned Prince Fielder, one of the best and most imposing left-handed hitters in baseball.

Rzepczynski came with the reputation that he could get lefties AND righties out. But so far this season he can't get either out.

Last night Rzepczynski came into a game to face a lefty, then a righty then a lefty. It was a perfect situation for a southpaw bullpenner. And he couldn't do a thing with it. Rzepczynski allowed three hits -- including a towering home run to lefty swinger Adam Dunn -- while retiring one batter to raise his season ERA to 5.48. He has allowed five home runs in 23 innings.

Simply put, Rzepczynski has to get his act together. The Cardinals have nowhere else to turn. Rookie Sam Freeman shouldn't be the guy who has to do the heavy lifting when the Birds have a battle-tested option in the bullpen.

Beyond Rzepczynski, the Cardinals have been killed by the ineffectiveness and eventual injury of Kyle McClellan. Last year McClellan stood up and was a valuable starter for the first third of the season. This year he was going to go back to a more familiar role of being an innings eater out of the bullpen. He would be the first guy off the bench to pick up the slack after Jake Westbrook flamed out after four or five innings. Without McClellan the Cardinals have no reliable bridge to the back of the bullpen.

The third letdown in the bullpen is Jason Motte who last year famously was denied the title of "closer" despite his post-season successes. Now he's got the name. So where is the stuff. Motte has blown a third of his save opportunities. But, more upsetting than that, Motte has seemed to have given up on the project of finding an effective second pitch.

Sunday, before he gave up the game-losing home run, Motte threw 17 consecutive fastballs in a row, all between 95-98 miles an hour. The old story goes that a major league hitter is going to time a 110 mile an hour fastball if he sees enough of them in a row. I don't care what Motte did last year. If he doesn't come up with some sort of change of pace -- I don't care if it is a slider, a change-up, a curve or a knuckle ball -- he's only going to become more hittable.

These aren't problems the Cardinals are likely to be able to fill with a reasonable trade. At least not now. They need to fix their shortcomings from within. And while Rzepczynski might be suffering from the loss of pitching mechanics guru Dave Duncan, there is no easy fix for filling the shoes of McClellan.

Somebody is going to need to step up. And that person has to be found somewhere on the current roster.