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About Carp and the ‘Pen…

UPDATE: Rick Hummel of the Post Dispatch reports Chris Carpenter is set to play catch today. He suggests that if all goes well, Carp could begin a more purposeful, aggressive throwing program within the next few days. See my post below for more on what it could look like if Carp is able to make his Opening Day start.

Chris Carpenter’s bulging disc has brought up a lot of interest in the Cardinals pitching riddle. Lance Lynn has been tabbed as the go-to guy if Carp can’t go, meaning he’ll be stretched out in preparation for an eventual start in place of The Ace if needed. But up to this point, no one really knows if any of that will be necessary. Carp could start throwing any day but hasn’t been given clearance to throw up to this point. And even if given clearance to throw, that doesn’t mean “in a game.” He would likely have to take a step or two back, throw off flat ground, then get some side sessions or simulated innings against hitters under his belt before getting in a game. At that point – once he’s in a game – the team has made reference to his previous off season in which he made only three ST starts after struggling with a hamstring problem early on. The three were – arguably – enough to prepare the tall right hander for Opening Day.

And that’s become the big question – will Carp make his Opening Day start? If you listened to this week’s State of the Nation Podcast, you heard me outline an emergency plan that would see Garcia pitch Opening Day, Waino pitch the home opener, and then see both pitchers coast through April on normal rest. The remaining hurlers – Lohse and Westbrook – could then cover all but one of the starts on regular or extra days rest. How is that, you ask? Because of all the days off the Cardinals get in April. Due to the extra down time, the rotation could be structured to pitch without Carp until April 21st. In that scenario, Lynn – or the 13th man in the podcast – would pitch only one game in early April before returning to the ‘pen (assuming Carp could go in late April).

But what if Carp is able to start throwing today or tomorrow? He’s been feeling better the last couple days and has suggested he may only be waiting for the anti-inflammatory meds to wrap-up before throwing. If that’s the case, and he gets going within the next couple days – and if we are to believe the Cardinals’ 3-Grapefruit-League-Starts projections…then the rest becomes pretty simple.

Working backwards from Opening Day – assuming Carp would pitch on normal 4-days rest (every 5th day) – his last start of Spring Training would be on March 30th against the Mets in Roger Dean. His second start would be March 25th against the Twins – also at home in Roger Dean. That leaves his first Grapefruit League start – *drumroll please* – on March 20th against the Astros…on the road.

If we look at the programs of other pitchers so far, he could be ready for five or six innings on Opening Day against the Marlins. That leaves a lot of work for the bullpen to cover on their first game, but it IS only the first game of the season…so everyone should be fresh! Plus, those extra days off in the schedule in April would allow the ‘pen to rest and shuffle as needed to deal with the strain of extra innings.

All that being said…wherever Carp ends up at the end of the season, it’s clear the bullpen is going to be impacted. Either by carrying extra innings as he builds up innings endurance, or by covering his missed starts. So, that begs the question…how is the bullpen shaping up? Let’s take a look:

1. Jason Motte – The closer hasn’t looked too bad, but he did blow his first save attempt. Historically – I think – Motte has needed a month or two to really get warmed up in the regular season. He doesn’t exactly have a track record of starting off strong. He needs to change that trend this April against NL Central foes.

2. J.C. Romero – The new charismatic lefty on the staff looked very good against lefties in yesterday’s game. His motion, delivery, and release point make him a frustrating pitcher for left handed hitters to face. So far, he looks like a good complement to Mark Rzepcynski.

3. Mark Rzepcynski – Scrabble has looked every bit as good this year as he did last year – so far. With his ability to get right handers out as well – and Kyle McClellan’s mad skillz against lefties – the ‘pen is looking a bit more versatile in 2012 than it has in the last few seasons.

4. Kyle McClellan – K-Mac’s name has once again come up in trade discussions. Rumors have the Orioles considering McClellan, but one writer believes Carp’s injury risk could cause the Cardinals to hold onto the St. Louis native. I tend to believe the opposite. It may be Carp’s injury risk that has re-energized discussions. It seems clear the organization is not high on Kyle as a starter any longer. That ship may have sailed with Duncan and La Russa. Without that value, he may be more of an assett playing for another team, if for no other reason than to clear salary space for Roy Oswalt. In other words, if Carp can’t go, it seems to only increase the chance McClellan gets traded so the team can afford to sign Roy-O to take Carp’s rotation slot. I hate that option because I like McClellan’s presence, stability, consistency, and versatility out of the ‘pen…but the fact remains, we do have too many righties.

5. Lance Lynn – We’ve already touched on Lynn’s potential role in the rotation, but if he doesn’t end up starting, the effort to stretch him out in Spring Training seems to indicate the big righty will become the long man in the ‘pen eventually slated to settle into 7th and 8th inning duties – think Blake Hawksworth meets The Baby-Faced Assassin (Brad Thompson). In fact, chatter out of camp suggests a possible set up role in his future.

6. Fernando Salas – The “Once and Perhaps Future Closer” is, once again, cruising through Spring Training without much attention…but he remains as effective as ever. He filled a valuable shut-down role last season before Jason Motte emerged in the wake of a worn out Salas-special. In light of the heavy workload Motte is expected to assume this season as the team’s near-every day closer, Salas could once again fill in as needed in the bottom of the ninth. Aside from that, he could easily be the sleeper candidate to sneak in and swipe the 8th inning set up role away from Lance Lynn.

7. Eduardo Sanchez – This kid is just too good to hold back any longer. In just 3.2 innings pitched (IP), the nasty righty has 9 strikeouts! Sure, he also has 3 walks…but a 3 to 1 K to BB ratio is entirely acceptable. Of course, the only concern pops up when you think of his potential role. As “the strikeout guy,” Sanchez could find himself in a bases loaded situation with the game on the line in the seventh inning. With no place to put the hitter, predictable control becomes fairly important. But Matheny and Molina should be able to settle the young pitcher down. No problems. In fact, the most interesting thing to watch about Sanchez could have to do with his options available. The team seems intrigued by the ability to send Sanchez up and down via the Memphis Express as needed – but don’t expect that to become too much of an issue. This guy will likely prove invaluable out of that St. Louis bullpen.

8. Mitchell Boggs – And that leads us to the enigma. Mitchell Boggs just can’t seem to find consistency if his life depends on it – which, in baseball terms, it now does. Boggs displayed quite a bit of bravado in Winter Warm-Up, perhaps because he senses the need to push one of the previously mentioned righties out of the team photo in order to make the roster. But since that time, he’s been hit and miss. In one start, he allowed 3 runs in one inning. In the second start, no runs and no hits. His struggles were well-documented last season, and Boggs himself acknowledges frustration with his unpredictable role and shocking trip to Memphis…but the fact remains that Boggs is the most unpredictable pitcher in the bunch. Talented…but risky. For my money, I only include Boggs on the roster if we’re carrying 13 pitchers or end up trading McClellan. He just needs to show he can run himself out there every day and throw quality pitches in the zone. He hasn’t done that in quite a while.

That’ll do it for today. Be sure to check out the UCB Radio Hour tonight at 9:30 pm CST to hear me (and a couple other guys 😉 ) chat about your favorite team – #1 on the field and #1 in your hearts!

Thanks for reading.

GO CARDS!!!

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