Sunday, May 19, 2013
Cards pitching depth being tested
By Jason Catania
The St. Louis Cardinals are off to a phenomenal start, thanks in large part to arguably the best pitching in baseball. That pitching depth is about to be put to the test.
At 27-15, the Cards have the best record in the National League, and much of that success comes on the strength of a rotation that has a 2.62 ERA -- tops in MLB.
But St. Louis is already without veteran right-hander Jake Westbrook, who's dealing with lingering elbow discomfort, and the club placed lefty Jaime Garcia on the DL with intensifying left shoulder pain, according to Derrick Goold of the Post-Dispatch. This appears to be related to the shoulder problems Garcia suffered through at the end of last season and nearly led to surgery. This time, though, he may not be so lucky -- meaning a long-term absence is possible.
Mitchell Boggs, who struggled so much early in the year that he lost the closer role and was sent to the minors, was recalled to take Garcia's spot on the 25-man roster.
Rookie John Gast has already made one spot start in place Westbrook, who could still make it back by the end of May if he avoids any setbacks. In theory, Gast could hang onto the job even once Westbrook makes it back.
As for who takes Garcia's spot in the rotation immediately, that remains up in the air at the moment, as Goold noted. The candidates, though, appear to be Joe Kelly, Seth Maness and Carlos Martinez, all of whom are currently in the bullpen but were starting pitchers coming up through the minors. Maness may have the edge, if only because he is the most stretched out of the three, having been called up for a relief role only recently, as the Post-Dispatch's Bernie Miklasz writes.
Longer-term, former Cardinals ace Chris Carpenter could actually become a factor here, as he's making his way back from what seemed like career-ending nerve damage in his shoulder. The righty made it through three innings of a simulated game Saturday.
There's also Michael Wacha, the team's top pick in last year's draft, who is off to a great start in his first full season of pro ball, with a 1.89 ERA in eight Triple-A starts. Whether St. Louis would want to rush him, though, is unknown.
So two holes have opened in the Cardinals vaunted rotation in the past week, but the team is actually well-prepared to cover itself -- at least for now. Depending on how Westbrook's recovery goes and how some of the younger arms fare if they have to take on increased roles, though, we could see GM John Mozeliak consider the trade route at some point.