Maness heading to Triple-A Memphis

Lefty Kiekhefer, St. Louis' No. 27 prospect, will replace him in 'pen

May 14th, 2016
Cards reliever Seth Maness allowed runs in seven of his first 13 outings this season. (AP)

LOS ANGELES -- His mechanics a mess and his confidence eroded from a tumultuous season start, reliever Seth Maness was optioned to Triple-A Memphis prior to the Cardinals' series opener at Dodger Stadium. He'll be replaced in the bullpen by lefty Dean Kiekhefer, who was expected to join the club during Friday night's game.

The Cardinals gave Maness all the time they could to work out his issues on the big league roster, but with each small step forward seemed to come another back. The tipping point came in Thursday's game against the Angels, one in which a five-run lead shrunk to two during Maness' four-batter appearance.

It was Maness' 13th outing of the year and the seventh in which he had allowed a run. Over 12 2/3 innings, he posted a 6.39 ERA and 1.97 WHIP. Batters have hit .375 off him with a 1.017 OPS.

"I've been hurting other guys in the bullpen by not being able to pick up innings I should," Maness said, shortly after learning he'd be headed to the Minors for the first time since April 2013.

Maness has said that his struggles trace back to deteriorating mechanics over the last two seasons. Yet, until this year, he was able to thrive as a ground-ball specialist even without always being in sync.

"It's in there. He's just got to figure it out," Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said. "We've tried him in lots of different roles and gave him time to kind of sort it out with everybody giving their input. Seth has worked tirelessly to get back there. … But like we've said many times, if we keep doing the same thing and expect different results, I just don't think that makes sense. We have to try something here to try and get him right."

Indications that status quo wasn't going to suffice for Maness came back in Spring Training, when he allowed seven runs on 15 hits in 8 2/3 Grapefruit League innings. He was then scored upon in six of his first eight regular-season outings, a stretch that prompted a lengthy video session with Cardinals ace Adam Wainwright and pitching coach Derek Lilliquist on April 25 to try to identify the mechanical issues.

To make the fixes, though, Maness believes he has to pitch a lot, and those opportunities just weren't there as the Cardinals lessened his role in the 'pen. He hopes to make up those innings by being used as a starter in Memphis.

In the interim, his bullpen spot will be filled by Kiekhefer, the club's No. 27 prospect, according to MLB Pipeline. His first appearance with St. Louis will be his big league debut, but he made six scoreless appearances with the big club this spring and then opened the Triple-A season with 12 1/3 scoreless innings. He allowed his first runs on Thursday, during a 1 2/3-inning appearance, and was one of two Triple-A pitchers who had yet to issue a walk.

Though his splits -- right-handed hitters have batted .313 and left-handers .105 against him -- are quite pronounced this year, the Cardinals don't envision limiting him to a lefty-specialist role.

"Just another good option for us," Matheny said. "Righties, he's had good success with [over his career], but he's going to be an uncomfortable at-bat for a lefty."