Matheny likely to adjust Cards' bullpen strategy
PITTSBURGH -- A day after another late-inning meltdown by the back end of the bullpen, Cardinals manager Mike Matheny indicated that closer duties were likely to be spread around until the club regained some late-inning stability.
Describing it as a "mild adjustment," Matheny said late-inning assignments would be determined no longer by set prescribed roles, but rather dictated by matchups or game progression. This is a change for the Cardinals, who, when Jason Motte sustained an elbow injury in March, immediately named Mitchell Boggs the team's closer.
"As soon as Motte went down, there was a need, at least in our mind, to give that clear message that this is our guy right now," Matheny said. "We continue to stand by the fact that we believe Mitchell can get outs in the ninth inning. But there are times through every season that you have to look around and say, 'What do we need to do to give ourselves the best chance?' The best chance may be Mitchell in the ninth. It may be one of the other guys."
Boggs has so far converted just two of his four save opportunities. He allowed another game to get away in the ninth when he allowed seven runs after entering with the score tied.
Trevor Rosenthal, who took Boggs' place as the team's eighth-inning setup man, has not fared much better in his enhanced role, also blowing two saves, and the two-run homer Rosenthal allowed Sunday ignited the Brewers' rally.
As all this has happened, the Cardinals have also received worsening news about the closer they were hoping would soon return. An MRI exam last week confirmed that Motte had sustained a ligament tear, and he will have surgery in early May if the ligament does not heal on its own. Such surgery would end Motte's season, leaving the Cardinals with the need for a long-term stopgap.
"There's going to be some years for teams that you just have to continue to fight your way through it," Matheny said. "That's where we are right now. We're going to have to fight our way until we figure out exactly how it's going to work out. That may have to change on a nightly basis."
It's not all that different from the direction the Cardinals turned in 2011, when Ryan Franklin's April struggles led then-manager Tony La Russa to use a closer-by-committee approach to help his 'pen stabilize. The Cardinals had eight pitchers record a save that season.
Matheny noted that he had a "group of guys" who he would consider for late-game situations. That includes veterans Edward Mujica and Randy Choate, as well as Joe Kelly, who was a closer in college. Boggs and Rosenthal will continue to be considered as late-game options, too.
Matheny's most pressing concern regarding Boggs, who posted a 2.21 ERA and led the league in holds last year, is that the right-hander regains any lost confidence.
"I think every one of these guys believes every single day that they have to go out and be whatever player we ask them to be in whatever role," Matheny said. "That's just their job to take the ball when we give it to them. I know he's done a very good job of just standing up and taking whatever heat that he believes he's caused. We want to see him be successful. We also want him to get to the point where he can feel good about where he is."