By Kevin Reynolds (@deckacards)
The Cardinals’ pen is in a wretched state. Seung-hwan Oh has allowed runs to score in five of his last eight appearances (seven runs altogether), most recently blowing the save last night by allowing a lead-off homer to Peralta. Trevor Rosenthal, meanwhile, long considered the once-and-future-closer-in-waiting, has sprung a leak of his own by letting three runs cross the plate in just 2.0 innings pitched and his last three appearances.
The Rosenthal conundrum is especially vexing considering he’s routinely throwing 100 mph and, at times, closely resembles his dominant self from record-setting seasons past. Some blame pitch selection – like throwing Daniel Descalso a change-up in last night’s loss – but his occasional fits of wildness can’t be ignored.
Oh, however, just looks burnt.
Concern over Oh’s velocity has popped up on Twitter at times, which is odd because I don’t remember him throwing 95 mph last season, a mark he’s repeatedly reached this year. If his velo peaks and then regresses, is he really seeing a drop in mph, or is it possible he’s simply struggling to regulate his pitch speed as consistently in 2017?
Personally, I chalk up his difficulties to overuse. The miles on that arm stretch way before his move to the states and his time as a Cardinal.
Whatever the reason, he’s entirely too hittable, and this St. Louis team cannot afford to continue rolling out a closer that looks like the worst reliever in the pen lately. Wins have been too hard to come by to give them away in the end.
Of course, if Matheny and Mozeliak’s handling of the roster recently is any indication, they haven’t noticed. Despite an obvious and significant issue, Matheny still has made no changes to the back end of his bullpen. Many have wondered if there are really any changes to be made. The way this pen has performed this season, especially with Kevin Siegrist landing on the disabled list, is there really an arm capable of shouldering the closer role in the clubhouse?
Here’s one: John Brebbia.
The out-of-the-blue call-up is sporting the lowest WHIP on the team (0.63), including the starters, the stingiest batting average against (.140), and the best earned run average (ERA) at 2.51. All of those numbers should be taken in context. He’s only thrown 14.1 innings since joining the major-league squad. But after a brief audition, he appears to have enough velocity, pitch variety, and poise to give it a go.
He even has the beard.
Once they wake up and acknowledge their predicament, Brebbia’s impending try-out makes too much sense.
He shouldn’t be expected to go it alone, though.
The concept of the traditional closer has been widely debunked for years now, proven to be more a product of old-school hold-overs, contracts, and near-superstition than actual necessity. While it does take a certain mentality to cope with the stress of the bad-day-equals-a-loss-for-my-team scenario night-to-night, multiple pitchers in a major-league bullpen are actually capable of getting the final three outs.
St. Louis needs to accept that reality and start acting like it.
In the past, managers have called this approach “closer by committee” or simply “going with the hot hand.” Whatever they call it, it’s time to start using names like Matt Bowman and Tyler Lyons in multi-inning appearances to end games. Even the rejuvenated Brett Cecil could handle such an assignment.
And while we’re at it, how about letting Triple-A starter John Gant throw a few innings? If the Cardinals do the smart thing and disable Oh for a rest and reset period – potentially through the All-Star break to take advantage of the league-wide time off – Gant would be an excellent addition to a pen in sore need of innings.
With Lyons, Bowman, and Gant set to throw multiple innings at the back-end and Cecil ready to deploy as needed, giving John Brebbia a chance to shut down the ninth should be a cake walk.
And really, what do they have to lose by trying it? More blown saves?
With Rosenthal and Oh anchoring the pen in the 8th and 9th innings, that’s pretty much a sure thing anyway.
Kevin Reynolds has covered the Cardinals for About.com, Yahoo! Sports, and various other entities. He’s been writing and podcasting about the Cardinals since 2004 at Stl Cards ‘N Stuff. Follow him and chat baseball on Twitter (@deckacards), and check him out on Facebook.
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