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A progression of Cardinals left-handed relievers

In the 17 years since Tony La Russa first arrived in St. Louis, the Cardinals employed at least two left-handed relievers to open the season in every year except one. In 1998, Lance Painter was the sole lefty in the pen, but the club knew what they had in him, as he was a holdover from the previous season.

In three years, including as recently as 2005, three of the team’s seven initial relievers of the season threw with their left hand. At first blush, 2012 continued the more regular pattern, with two lefties rostered at season’s start.

However, there is at least one significant difference. 2012 marks the only the third time in at least the last 16 years that neither left-hander had been with the Cardinals at the start of the previous season.

There is good news and bad when considering the two prior clubs with all new lefties, 2001 and 2009. While each went on to the make the post-season, both teams lost in the first round of the playoffs, the League Division Series.

One might put an asterisk by the name of Marc Rzepczynski in 2012, as “Scrabble” isn’t entirely new, having joined the team last July. His former partner, well-traveled J.C. Romero, was given his walking papers on Monday after just six weeks on the team. Romero was replaced by a right-hander, Eduardo Sanchez.

The only two years during which the two season-opening Cardinals lefties both had sub-3.00 ERAs was in 1996 and 2004. Steve Kline and Ray King were the relievers in the latter year, following Rick Honeycutt and Tony Fossas.

St. Louis Cardinals, season-opening left-handed relievers, 1996 to present

Year LH reliever G ERA LH reliever G ERA LH reliever G ERA
1996 Rick Honeycutt 61 2.85 Tony Fossas 65 2.68
1997 Lance Painter 14 4.76 Tony Fossas 71 3.83
1998 Lance Painter 65 3.99
1999 Lance Painter 56 4.83 Mike Mohler 48 4.38 Scott Radinsky 43 4.88
2000 Jesse Orosco 6 3.86 Mike Mohler 22 9.00
2001 Steve Kline 89 1.80 Mike Matthews 51 3.24 Jeff Tabaka (NRI) 8 7.36
2002 Steve Kline 66 3.39 Mike Matthews 43 3.89
2003 Steve Kline 78 3.82 Lance Painter (NRI) 22 5.50
2004 Steve Kline 67 1.79 Ray King 86 2.61
2005 Randy Flores 50 3.46 Ray King 77 3.38 Bill Pulsipher (NRI) 5 6.75
2006 Randy Flores 65 5.62 Ricardo Rincon 5 10.80
2007 Randy Flores 70 4.25 Tyler Johnson 55 4.03
2008 Randy Flores 43 5.26 Ron Villone (NRI) 74 4.68
2009 Trever Miller 70 2.06 Dennys Reyes 75 3.29
2010 Trever Miller 57 4.00 Dennys Reyes 59 3.55
2011 Trever Miller 39 4.02 Brian Tallet 18 8.31
2012 Marc Rzepczynzki 15 2.25 J.C. Romero 11 10.13

(Bolded names represent a returning pitcher for multiple opening days.)

Of course this list does not include the leagues of others who passed through the pen for short periods within a given season, such as Arthur Rhodes and Raul Valdes in 2011.

In the short-term, no clear left-handed pitching help is on the way for the 2012 club. There is quantity in Memphis, but Major League quality is an open question. Four left-handed relievers and one lefty starter compete at Triple-A, but none appear close to the bigs. The only one of the group already on the 40-man roster, Sam Freeman, has yet to make his Triple-A debut.

The others are starter Nick Additon and relievers Nick Greenwood, R.J. Swindle and Barret Browning. The latter two joined the organization as a minor league free agent and via the Triple-A phase of the 2011 Rule 5 Draft, respectively. (Remember, to see the entire Cardinals system on one page, check out the Roster Matrix, always up to date right here at The Cardinal Nation blog. )

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Brian Walton

Brian Walton runs The Cardinal Nation and The Cardinal Nation Blog, covering the St. Louis Cardinals and minor league system.
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18 Responses to “A progression of Cardinals left-handed relievers”

  1. blingboy says:

    Thanks to Matt’s bopp the pitching staff will get a chance to hold a one game lead. It seems like that situation hasn’t come up too much this year.

    26 days after hitting the wall Jay goes on the DL. Why am I not boiling over with confidence that all will be well.

    The Cards, in effect, have a “Help Wanted – LHR” sign posted in the clubhouse in Memphis. Will anyone sieze the opportunity? Step up boys, its the chance you’ve been working for your whole life.

    • blingboy says:

      So much for holding the lead. 2/3 of an inning.

    • JumboShrimp says:

      It was too much to hope that Jay’s terrible slam into the fence would be without consequences. Since a healthy Jay means a great deal to the Cards, his loss is substantial problem. We could go with Skip and Shane, but we could also consider brining up Adron Chambers, if Jay ends up needing an operation.

      • JumboShrimp says:

        17 years of lefty relievers. Only one scouted and signed from amateur ranks by the Birds, Tyler Johnson.
        This should change in future. The Cards have quite a few southpaws now in the minor league system.

        • JumboShrimp says:

          Another good hitting game from Tyler Green, 3 for 3 with two xtra base hits. Matheny does a clever job of including guys in the mix.

        • JumboShrimp says:

          Behind the 4 southpaws at Memphis, there are Gast and Lyons at Springfield; they have pitched well as starters. At Palm Beach, Nazario and Kirkhefer (sp) have been effective in relief. In a couple of years, the Cards may home-raise their first southpaw reliever since Tyler Johnson.

  2. WesPowell says:

    Great win by the guys. So far this year we had those 2 brutal losses at Wrigley, and responded by winning 3 straight. Later we lost 3 straight, one at home to Pitt and then 2 at Houston. We then won the last one at Houston and swept Arizona at Arizona. Now we lost 4 in a row at home, leaving a bunch of runners on when the victories were there to be had, and answered that with the gutty win today. I sense the same moxy and nose-to-the-grindstone-stick-to-it-ness that we had last year.

  3. WesPowell says:

    And I suppose at some point we should start a guessing pool on when Pujols will pass Matt Carpenter in RBIs.

  4. WesPowell says:

    As to the lefty reliever topic, my only input there would be that I’m still pissed at Herzog for taking Dayley out after pitching the 8th in the Denkinger game.

  5. WesPowell says:

    On second glance I will offer another tidbit on the lefty reliever chart. A case can be made the worst two years in terms of combined lefty reliever pitching were 2006, 5.82 and 10.80 ERAs, and 2011, 4.02 and 8.31 ERAs.. The two years we won it all.

    • Brian Walton says:

      As you know, last season, both Miller and Tallet, the season-opening lefties, were terrible. Valdes was tried and also jettisoned. Scrabble was acquired and Rhodes was salvaged off the scrap heap. The latter two were the ones left standing at the end.

  6. WesPowell says:

    It’s funny how it works out sometimes. Last year we replaced the poor performing lefties and it worked out. In 2006 Flores took his 5.62 ERA into the post season and was spectacular.

  7. WesPowell says:

    In the 2006 post season relievers Wainwright, Kinney, Flores, and Johnson pitched 29 innings and allowed one earned run.

  8. WestCoastbirdWatcher says:

    Part of Pujols’ mantra is that he has moved on from St. Louis, that nothing has really changed. However, friends of Pujols inside and outside his former organization describe a proud man wounded by what he considers an incomplete depiction of failed talks with the Cardinals, who never approached the same contract structure after he rejected a nine-year, $198 million bid in January 2011. The club resumed talks with a five-year, $135 million offer and eventually reached a 10-year framework consisting of multiple player options while also including significant deferred money. The proposal in January deferred no money, making its average annual value much higher than the December bid. Neither Pujols nor the club have publicly addressed specifics of the Cardinals’ position.

    Read more:

    Herding. …….. What ever was required…………. You know the rest of the story…………….but pay attention….its just getting started…………

  9. WesPowell says:

    I thought Pujols was starting to show wear and tear, and while his box scores for a long time were machine-like, he was becoming more and more streaky with time. I can understand ego is a big factor at that level of anything, and wanting the biggest money is part of it. I thought the Cardinals should have offered him one year for 40 million, making him easily the best paid player for a single season of all time, and maybe for the rest of all time. And as long as the stats kept coming, keep giving him one year for 40 million. Thus he could retain his icon status in Saint Louis for as long as he kept slamming away, and the most the organization could stand to lose was 40 million, for the year he finally fell off.
    I have to make the guess that Albert is thinking he made a monumental mistake for not accepting the Cards biggest and longest offer. He is probably not too far away from his new fans turning on him big-time which would further complicate the issue for him trying to turn it around.

  10. blingboy says:

    Angels fired Mickey Hatcher, the batting coach.

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