I was among those concerned when the final two spots of the St. Louis Cardinals bullpen to open the 2011 season were awarded to an odd couple. Unproven Bryan Augenstein had been a waiver wire pickup while Miguel Batista was overly-proven, if there could be such a thing. The 40-year-old had been invited to camp on a minor league, make-good contract.
It isn’t as if they hadn’t pitched well in spring training, because they did. Augenstein had an ERA of 0.77 while Batista was at 1.59. It is just that we have seen many times before when a period of short-lived success passes and what remains is not nearly as interesting. Not surprisingly, such was the case for these two.
Augenstein was injured in mid-April and after a long rehab, remained in Memphis for the rest of the 2011 season. He was removed from the 40-man roster in July and released in November.
Batista lasted longer, but was given his release on June 23. He then signed with the Mets and pitched in both the majors and minors over the remainder of the summer.
At least three inexperienced pitchers (in MLB terms) took advantage of the opportunities given them, contributing to the Cardinals’ recovery that culminated in a playoff berth and two cases, the World Championship as well.
They were each ranked among our top 14 Cardinals prospects one year ago, so their emergence should not be considered a surprise. They are Lance Lynn (number three prospect), Eduardo Sanchez (number four) and Fernando Salas (number 14). Each should be in the middle of the mix for a pen spot in 2012.
The pitcher taking Batista’s spot on the Cardinals’ 25-man roster in June was Lynn. The 24-year-old right-hander, a successful starter in the minors, quickly established himself as a reliable reliever before suffering a left oblique injury on August 10.
That injury kept him out until his surprise return in the NLCS. Lynn pitched in five games in both the CS and World Series, tying him for the team lead. He yielded four earned runs in 11 innings for a 3.27 ERA.
When Augenstein went down, Salas received another chance with St. Louis. After having been sent down six times in 2010, this time he stuck. The right-hander from Mexico spent several months as the closer, logging 24 saves in 30 opportunities. Appearing in 68 games overall, he fanned one batter per inning (75 in 75) and walked just 21. His ERA was 2.28.
In the post-season, Salas was called upon a total of 11 times. He gave up five earned runs in 13 1/3 innings for a 3.38 ERA. Salas fanned 12 and walked four.
Sanchez, a 22-year-old Venezuelan, made his MLB debut in April, after coming up from Memphis at the same time as Salas. Like Lynn, the hard-thrower seemed ready, but needed the opportunity to show his stuff in the majors.
Sanchez threw 30 innings over 26 games for St. Louis. He struck out 35 and walked 16. The right-hander won three games, lost one, and was 5-for-7 in save opportunities. His ERA was 1.80.
Unfortunately, Sanchez’ season was scuttled when he was placed on the 15-day DL retroactive to June 13 with what was called at the time a “mild right shoulder strain.” His original late July estimated return ended up extending well into September. Sanchez made just one token late-September appearance. The injury likely cost him a shot at post-season action.
The emergence of these 2011 rookies will help the Cardinals go younger and cheaper in their bullpen going ahead. That frees up salary to potentially strengthen other positions as necessary. With other notables on the horizon such as Adam Reifer, Maikel Cleto, Brandon Dickson, Chuckie Fick and Adam Ottavino, some of the team’s right-handed relief surplus could also be used as trade chips.