First and foremost, all due respect to Jason Motte.
The man closed out the Cardinals’ 11th World Series Championship in 2011 to join the likes of Adam Wainwright, Bob Gibson, and Bruce Sutter as Cardinals pitchers to close out a Fall Classic — quite a list — and his work to “strikeout cancer” in 2013 and 2014 is admirable, especially for a professional athlete recovering from career-threatening surgery at the time.
But it’s time for Motte’s season-long tryout to join the St. Louis Cardinals in October to come to…well, a close.
Most of us expected 2014 to be a challenging year for Motte. The first year back from Tommy John Surgery always is (see: Adam Wainwright). Sure, there were the occasional musings that suggested Jason, if his velocity recovered, could spell — perhaps even replace — Trevor Rosenthal in the closer role. I was one of them. I’ll admit it.
But that little qualifier keeps getting in the way…”if his velocity recovered.” Let’s not fool ourselves — 99 mph Jason Motte is not running out of the bullpen gate before 2015, if ever. And without that blazing fastball, Motte isn’t much of a pitcher.
Oh, sure, he’s developed a cutter and a smattering of other occasionally-rumored secondary pitches, most of which might get a hitter out in Legion ball or the Babe Ruth league…but this is the big leagues. Hitters here eat fastballs for dinner and feast on sub-par secondary pitches. His cutter is good enough to throw at perhaps an average MLB relief pitcher level…on a good day…but a high-leverage pitch in the pressure cooker of MLB’s postseason it is not.
It’s fair to say the attempt to bring Jason Motte back to form in time for October is a failure. And now, it’s becoming a problem in September.
Last night, in a 4-1 game against the Reds and a 4.5 game lead on the streaking Pittsburgh Pirates, Mike Matheny brought in Jason Motte. His appearance came just days after a high-leverage appearance against the Milwaukee Brewers that was less-than stellar.
Motte promptly gave up three hits, allowed three runs to score, and only escaped the inning (and the top of the Reds’ order) when the pitcher hit into a double-play. Out of 16 total pitches thrown, only four were his vaunted fastball, a pitch that touched 95 mph once but routinely sat at 93 mph. Most-often, he threw the cutter (12), an erratic pitch that typically sits between 86 and 90 mph and produced the only two swing-and-miss strikes of his outing (one of which touched 94 mph).
That’s not good enough, and there’s no evidence to suggest it’s getting better anytime soon…especially not within the next few weeks. But Matheny continues to run Motte out to the mound in games the Cardinals have a chance to win.
When Jason entered the game, the score was 4-1. When he left, it was 7-1. Cardinal hitters managed to plate three more runs by the start of the 8th inning, a tally that could’ve tied the game had the deficit not ballooned under Motte’s watch. They nearly scored more when A.J. Pierzynski’s line drive shot was snared by Pena at first base.
In other words, that was a winnable September game in the heat of a division title race. It could end up being a significant loss by the end of the season for a team hoping to 1) win the division and avoid the Wild Card game, 2) win home field advantage against teams like the San Francisco Giants and their raucous fan base, and 3) avoid facing the LA Dodgers and Clayton Kershaw in a best-of-five NLDS series by banking the National League’s best record.
It’s time to stop with the high-risk tryouts. The Cardinals must focus all of their best assets to win the NL Central crown and achieve baseball’s best record. Sure, there are tough roster decisions to be made, and only through performance on the mound can Matheny accurately gauge who his best pitchers are, but there are clearly some players that shouldn’t be in the running in the first place.
Sadly, Jason Motte is at the top of that list.
The chance to score home field advantage through the NLCS, or avoid facing Kershaw twice in a 5-game series, is too valuable to let slip away because Mike Matheny hopes Jason Motte can suddenly rediscover his 97-99 mph fastball.
It ain’t happing, Mike. At least not this year.
It’s time to let it go.
— GO CARDS!!!