Kittredge focused on process, not solely results

Veteran reliever has been reliable force for Cards, but team is trying not to overuse him

June 9th, 2024

ST. LOUIS -- Based on the volatility of his job as a reliever whose job it is to walk a proverbial tightrope nightly and get the ball to the closer with the lead intact, Cardinals right-hander Andrew Kittredge said he learned long ago that his self-evaluations must always be process oriented instead of completely results based.

If not, the 34-year-old Kittredge insisted, he might have ripped out every hair of his long-flowing beard by now and he likely wouldn’t have lasted in the big leagues for parts of eight seasons.

Kittredge, who has been one of the Cardinals’ most reliable contributors all season, left Saturday’s 6-5 dispiriting loss to the Rockies knowing that he made many of the same pitches that allowed him to pile up 17 holds this season. The results, however, were dramatically different, as Charlie Blackmon reached him for a double on a low-and-in pitch, Brenton Doyle had an RBI blooper that left the bat at 64.9 mph and Ezequiel Tovar hit a ball well off the plate for a two-run homer.

“It’s hard on a day like today [to focus on the process] because that’s a big situation and it swings the game and costs us the game, but to look at those results and say I need to make wholesale changes in my approach or mindset wouldn’t be the thing to do,” said Kittredge, whose three earned runs allowed pushed his ERA to 3.54. “You don’t like to chalk it up to baseball, and it’s easy to just look at the results and say I pitched poorly, but I don’t think that’s the case.

“If I wanted to be nitpicky, yeah [pitches] could have been a little better. But, based on what I was trying to do with each of those pitches, nine times out of 10, I’m going to be happy there.”

The Cardinals have certainly been happy with the trade that landed them Kittredge, whose 17 holds this season rank third in MLB behind only the 19 from Washington’s Hunter Harvey and teammate JoJo Romero’s 19. Cards closer Ryan Helsley, who has an MLB most 21 saves, has raved about the calmness that Kittredge has brought to the team’s bullpen with his consistent and steady approach.

An area of concern, however, is overusing Kittredge, who missed large swaths of the 2022 and 2023 seasons with the Rays after needing Tommy John surgery. Working a scoreless inning on Friday and pitching again on Saturday pushed his appearance total to 30 this season, meaning he is on pace to easily surpass his career high of 57 appearances in 2021.

Fearing a similar over usage with Romero, the Cardinals recently gave the left-hander an entire series off to recharge his batteries. Cardinals manager Oliver Marmol said a similar strategy might be needed in the future with Kittredge, but he pushed back on fatigue possibly being a contributing factor to Saturday’s performance.

“We had a good conversation leading into that game, and he felt great,” a testy Marmol said in the postgame news conference. “His [velocity] was there, he was up to [95.2], and he felt great coming out of that game. [Tovar] got a pitch [outside] the zone and hit it a long ways.”

The Cardinals’ second loss to the Rockies dropped them back into last place in the tightly bunched National League Central. St. Louis came into Saturday 8-2 in its last 10 games at Busch Stadium, but that feel-good stretch followed one where they had started 6-11 at home. Already this season, the Cardinals have four home losses to the White Sox and Rockies.

“You see it with teams, at times, playing down to the level of the competition, but this is the big leagues, every team is good, everyone has earned the right to be here, and they can bring it,” Kittredge said. “Maybe sometimes you have that, ‘Oh, we can take a breath here,’ but I don’t think anybody is doing that. I don’t think anything changes.”

Kittredge was frustrated about Saturday’s loss because it happened with him on the mound and trying to protect a 4-3 lead. Upon further review, Kittredge said he loved how he attacked various quadrants of the plate against Blackmon and how he induced weak contact from Doyle. Against Tovar, he followed up a low-and-away slider that was fouled off with a sinker several inches inside and well off the plate.

“I don’t feel like I necessarily beat myself, and they just put some good swings on pitches,” Kittredge said. “I’ve replayed those scenarios and I feel like I made the right decision. Any time the lead changes hands, you’re going to be frustrated. But if I go out tomorrow and do that same thing, it probably works.”