On Saturday, St. Louis Cardinals reliever Jason Motte tossed a scoreless sixth inning in a game against the Houston Astros that had a 6-0 score at the time. It was a necessary step backward then forward as Motte ended his first eventful week in the spotlight as a major league closer.
There were several interesting implications in terms of when he was used – the inning of the game and place in the opposing lineup – as well as in terms of his immediate availability.
Motte pitched in what became his first consecutive games this season, a realistic requirement that had to be put on hold after his 29-pitch marathon on opening day.
Pitching on consecutive days allowed Motte to get back onto the mound quickly after his shaky outing on Friday. That is in contrast to the three games taken off following his Monday struggles against Pittsburgh.
Another by-product is that Motte will likely be unavailable Sunday, ensuring a different closer will be used if needed for the conclusion of what could be a Cardinals sweep of their NL Central Division rivals from Houston.
On Saturday, the right-hander faced the middle of the Astros lineup, the number four through seven hitters. After a single to cleanup man Carlos Lee, Motte fanned Ivan Rodriguez and Geoff Blum to complete his inning of work.
This was in contrast to his second outing of the season on Friday. In that game, Motte was set up to pitch to the bottom third of the Astros order, but didn’t get the job done against what should have been the easiest part of the lineup. Rodriguez and pinch-hitter Jeff Keppinger both singled before Motte was pulled with one out in the ninth.
On opening day, Motte had taken over with the number two batter coming up and ended up facing the entire Pirates order except for the leadoff man in a game in which he was charged with four earned runs, a blown save and the loss.
While Saturday’s clean outing was a good move forward for Motte, as the Cardinals leave town for their first road trip of the season, the question of his next steps remain.
Dennys Reyes and Kyle McClellan already have a save each and Ryan Franklin, the man some expected to be the kid closer safety net, has performed only in a setup role to date.
Meanwhile, demoted closer candidate Chris Perez has logged three hitless innings over two games with Triple-A Memphis. He has accrued a save and a win. As is characteristic with Perez, he has three strikeouts, but also issued a pair of walks.
It was not part of the plan to open the season in St. Louis with both closer candidates on the roster since more long men were needed due to the heavy early schedule of 34 games in 35 days.
At some point in the not too distant future, the major league club may be better equipped for the long haul with both Perez and Motte in their bullpen.