The St. Louis Cardinals took a major hit to their rotation when the team announced its star prospect, Alex Reyes, would need Tommy John surgery, prematurely ending his 2017 season before it even began.
There’s a battle between Michael Wacha, Luke Weaver, and Trevor Rosenthal for the fifth rotation spot, but the real story is in the bullpen. How will manager Mike Matheny utilize the bullpen this season and what impact will each player have on the back end of games?
Lance Lynn said this past week it’s important the starting rotation steps up this season, especially for himself coming off Tommy John surgery. With a weaker rotation, will Matheny choose to rely on the bullpen more, like Terry Francona did with the Cleveland Indians last season?
He certainly has the pieces and depth to do just that, so let’s take a look at each player.
Kevin Siegrist and Brett Cecil are the lefty specialists. The Cardinals contributed a hefty sum to bring in Cecil from Toronto, offering him a four-year contract worth more than $30 million. The Cardinals also have Tyler Lyons, who has the potential to come out of the bullpen, but might miss the start of the season as he finishes healing a knee injury.
Siegrist posted a 2.77 ERA with 66 strikeouts in 2016 making the Cardinals left handed tandem, one of the best in the league.
Sueng-hwan Oh is positioned to continue his role as the Cardinal’s closer. In 76 games Oh posted a 1.92 ERA and had 19 saves. He dominated in Japan as one of the greatest pitchers of all-time, he’s looking to continue that dominance in 2017 for St. Louis.
Oh told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch he’s learning thanks to his catcher.
“I learned that I need to look more carefully for Yadi’s sign and his mitt. As long as I’m placing my stuff wherever Yadi is giving his sign and putting his mitt, I know I’m good.”
Jonathan Broxton will likely remain in his innings eating role in the middle of games, an area where Weaver could also serve as an impact player later in the year if Matheny opts to use the long man in the middle of games.
It’s Wacha’s spot to lose in the rotation, but in the future he could serve in this sixth-man role, with the ability to pitch two or three innings in the middle of games.
Looking at the ever important set-up man role, it would appear this is where Rosenthal will ultimately land. He’s making a push for the rotation, but right now he seems better suited for the set-up role. It’s less pressure for the hard-throwing right-hander and it’s a position he found success in last season.
John Gant comes over from Atlanta, and like Broxton, can be an innings eater for the Cardinals in 2o17. Gant chalked up 50 innings with 49 strikeouts and an ERA of 4.86 in 2016.
Matt Bowman is the ground-ball guy and can be used as both a long man and situationally when the team is in tight situations.
“It was impressive what he was able to do. He comes in [this year] with the same mindset — that I have to make the team all over again. He realizes where he is. He’s a smart kid,” Matheny said.
There’s a competition for the final spots in the bullpen. Miguel Socolovich and Sam Tuivailala will also make a good push to sneak into the bullpen. They’ll have plenty of opportunities this spring to prove to Matheny they deserve a spot in the bullpen.
St. Louis has plenty of options in the bullpen and lots of depth into the minors. With a starting rotation that has more question marks than answers, Matheny could be calling to the guys in the bullpen for help if and when the starters run into trouble.
[Featured Image by Scott Kane/Getty Images]