The St. Louis Cardinals bullpen was prominent in their win over Baltimore Orioles at Camden Yards on Tuesday evening.
Lance Lynn, up again from Triple-A Memphis where I saw him just one week ago, was named the FOX Sports Midwest Player of the Game after he fanned five and allowed just one hit and no walks in two scoreless innings. The rookie is showing he deserves to receive more work.
Though he had struggled recently, especially in multi-inning outings, closer-for-now Fernando Salas did his job. Asked to once again go longer, to secure five outs to seal the win, that is precisely what the 26-year-old did.
Perhaps the reason for seeing Salas in the eighth was the lack of dependable options in the bullpen, but I will give manager Tony La Russa the benefit of the doubt. I give him considerable credit for apparently recognizing that the most crucial point of the game was in the eighth. Holding Salas until the ninth would be of no value if the contest had already gotten away from his staggering club, losers of 12 of their last 15. Using the closer in a non-save situation is not TLR’s standard M.O., but it was clearly the right thing to do on Tuesday.
In between, former closer Ryan Franklin was given the ball to start a clean eighth with a six-run lead and floundered. A J.J. Hardy home run, a single and an RBI double in just 1/3 of an inning increased Franklin’s 2011 ERA to 8.46 and created the mess Salas was asked to clean up.
As researcher Tom Orf pointed out, Franklin has now given up nine home runs in 28 innings this year after yielding just nine in 2009 and 2010 combined, over 126 frames.
As we know, both La Russa and general manager John Mozeliak have repeatedly expressed confidence in the beleaguered reliever, saying they want him to return to pitching in meaningful situations. If there is an injury, no one will admit it.
After over two months of trying, it seems about time to admit a turnaround may not happen – at least in this environment.
Franklin’s last save opportunity (it was blown) was back on April 17. Since then, La Russa and pitching coach Dave Duncan have been reluctant to use Franklin and when they have, the results have not been good. The 38-year-old appeared in just six games in May and six so far in June.
Franklin is not getting better as he has been scored upon in five of those six June contests with his ERA this month now 10.61. That is worse than his 10.13 ERA during his April meltdown (four blown saves and two losses over his first five appearances of the season).
Fierce loyalty to his players (as well as having a large doghouse for those who end up on his wrong side) are among La Russa trademarks. The trait is usually admirable, but at times like this, the manager seems painfully slow to acknowledge what most others can clearly see.
This is a game of results and despite all the past successes, the results have not been there in 2011. Extreme patience has been shown, but improvement is not occurring.
Franklin was a solid player for the Cardinals prior to this season and deserves thanks for those memories, but his performance has deteriorated to the point that his presence on the roster is hurting his team.
It is time for someone to take action, whether Mozeliak, La Russa or Franklin himself.
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