With Jaime Garcia’s shoulder pushing him onto the disabled list, the St. Louis Cardinals do not have a starting pitcher for their series finale in San Diego on Wednesday night, May 22.
With its top-ranked farm system strongest in pitching in and close to the majors, the problem is located in the organization’s most optimal area to try to address. While there are various options potentially available to the Cardinals, none is completely obvious.
Let’s consider them.
Jake Westbrook. The veteran right-hander is on the disabled list with right elbow problems that have required two injections to try to calm down. Even if his mandatory 15 days on the DL had passed by Wednesday, which they will not, Westbrook has not begun to throw again, so would not be ready.
The bigger question with Westbrook is how long he will remain out – and therefore how long John Gast would be needed to replace him instead of potentially covering for Garcia in the rotation.
Chris Carpenter. When the starting five seemed in such good shape just a few days ago, there seemed no place for the warrior to fit. Still, Carpenter has been preparing for his return as a starter. In bullpens, his pitch counts have been as high as 70, but his next checkpoint is not until the Cardinals return to St. Louis on May 28.
On the 60-day disabled list since March 22, my calculations have Carp becoming eligible for activation on May 22. Hmmm. Still, without any rehab action, an accelerated move with the 38-year-old would seem to be high risk. No one has even suggested this, to my knowledge. Yet because it does not seem impossible and it is Carpenter we are talking about, I will include it among the options.
Michael Wacha. Putting aside Carpenter, the talk of major league spring training camp is perhaps the sentimental favorite to step in for Garcia. The tall right-hander has strong basic numbers with a 4-0 record and a 1.89 ERA in his first eight Triple-A starts. The 21-year-old has improved after yielding four of his 10 earned runs in his first two outings, including two of five home runs.
Digging a bit deeper, though, provides potential clues to why Carlos Martinez, Seth Maness and Gast were selected to be elevated to the majors ahead of him. There are those five long balls and a so-so 32:14 strikeout to walk ratio in 47 2/3 innings. His FIP of 4.10 and unsustainably low .181 BABIP summarize a view that the basic nums are not fully indicative and that more seasoning was required.
In addition, Wacha is not yet on the 40-man roster. It may be too early to move Garcia to the 60-day DL to create an opening. This could be addressed by removal of another, but it would seem to me that the Cardinals would prefer to make the Wacha moves if a longer-term starting need is presented (see Westbrook uncertainty above).
Seth Maness. The good-luck charm as a reliever has logged all three St. Louis bullpen wins this season. Having carried a full starter’s workload until recently, including four Triple-A starts, Maness would seem to be the most likely interim rotation replacement, in my opinion. The right-hander most recently tossed 1 2/3 frames of scoreless ball on Friday night, getting a hold against the Brewers.
The return of reliever Mitchell Boggs from Memphis in the corresponding roster move with Garcia’s placement on the DL is a potential indicator that Wednesday’s starter might come from the current St. Louis pen. Even if not, it at least gives the club another relief arm during the impending three games.
Carlos Martinez. Speaking of starters currently among the relievers, we have hard-throwing Carlos Martinez. While holding his own in the majors, Martinez had a late start this season due to a visa problem. His workload with St. Louis has been relatively sparse and he pitched in relief Saturday night. Martinez could be a factor, but there seems risk in starting the 21-year-old in the majors now.
Trevor Rosenthal. After some bumpy outings early on, Rosenthal has been the most reliable set-up man on the team. Forget his career ceiling. Forget that he isn’t stretched out to start. I just don’t see the Cardinals risking messing up their pen by moving Rosenthal into the rotation now. He may deserve it, but baseball isn’t always fair.
Joe Kelly. Just a few weeks ago, some were clamoring for the right-hander to be given a shot at closing. After Kelly’s Saturday night’s loss to Milwaukee, some of those on the fringe are now calling for Kelly to be demoted to the Triple-A rotation. Still, the 25-year-old started 16 games for St. Louis last season filling in for Garcia and did a credible job.
Maikel Cleto. The hard thrower has not progressed in the Memphis bullpen so was moved into the rotation when Maness departed. In three starts, Cleto has a 2.77 ERA, but he hasn’t yet gotten his walks under control. His strikeout to walk ratio is 14:14 in 13 rotation innings. Cleto does have the benefit of already being on the 40-man.
Tyler Lyons. Though a long shot in my opinion, the left-hander had quietly improved in 2012 as he moved up to Triple-A. This season, Lyons has not been as strong. He has a 4.47 ERA in eight Pacific Coast League starts, where opponents are batting .306 against him. Lyons’ FIP is much better at 3.31 and BABIP against him has been an unlucky .366. Our 35th-ranked Cardinals prospect is not yet on the 40-man roster, another inhibitor. On the other hand, it may make sense to enter another left-hander into the potential bullpen mix later on, joining Marc Rzepczynski, Sam Freeman and Gast.
OK, enough about the candidates. Based on everything we know – and a lot we do not – who would you have the Cardinals hand the ball to on Wednesday night in San Diego? Vote and explain below.
Who should start in Jaime Garcia's absence?
- Seth Maness (48%, 19 Votes)
- Michael Wacha (25%, 10 Votes)
- Carlos Martinez (13%, 5 Votes)
- Joe Kelly (8%, 3 Votes)
- Tyler Lyons (5%, 2 Votes)
- Maikel Cleto (3%, 1 Votes)
- Chris Carpenter (0%, 0 Votes)
- Trevor Rosenthal (0%, 0 Votes)
Total Voters: 40