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Who should start for St. Louis in Garcia’s spot?

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

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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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17 Responses to “Who should start for St. Louis in Garcia’s spot?”

  1. crdswmn says:

    Maness is my choice. Wacha needs to stay in Memphis a while longer despite what the Hyperventilating Hordes want.

  2. JumboShrimp says:

    Wacha is the easy choice. Wacha has been dominating at AAA, in a way that Maness and Lyons have not. Yadier Molina said in spring training Wacha had ML pitches.

    Martinez is not ready to serve as a starter. He would need to return to the minors and work up his pitch count. Kelly is in much the same boat. He needs to return to Memphis and build up stamina as a starting pitcher.

    Now the Cards have brought up Boggs, they can send Kelly down, so he can build stamina in a starting role.

    Mo only mentioned Lyons, to deflect attention from Wacha in the short run. Actually, the strongest alternative to Wacha is soft-tossing LHP Nick Additon. Additon has a good WHIP and K-rate, and years at AAA. But the Cards are more likely to go with Wacha, because the sooner we start transitioning him into the ML rotation, the better.

    • crdswmn says:

      5 HRs in 47 innings and a 4.10 FIP is not dominating. He needs to work the kinks out.

      For a few starts, Maness would be fine. If Westbrook is out longer then revisit the Wacha idea. The club shouldn’t bring him up just for a few starts, create a 40 man issue and start his clock for that.

      • JumboShrimp says:

        Let me see if I understand your opinion. Our top pick in 2012 is undefeated at AA, with an ERA below 2, though these are his first starts as a pro and are taking place at the high level of AAA. You instead prefer Maness, who did not get drafted as a junior in college, and who had a nice season last summer at the lower rung of AA. You ignore the opinion of Yadier Molina, who pronounced Wacha ML ready.

        There is zero problem with the 40 man roster. We have several people who can be bumped off to make room for Wacha, Additon, or Lyons. Mo runs the team and has to weigh business decisions. Mo is likely to decide to start Wacha’s clock in near future. We have a first place team and there is enormous pressure to collect wins.

        • Brian Walton says:

          C’mon, Jumbo. Let’s bring the level of discussion up a few grades. Molina’s comments about Wacha’s offerings this spring were interesting. Attaching any more significance to them than that, especially relating to individual transactions, is ridiculous.

        • crdswmn says:

          And who is staying in Memphis for now? Wacha? Really?

          I didn’t expect Lyons, but I can live with that.

  3. Brian Walton says:

    OK, I quickly closed the poll. The club announced this morning that Lyons is getting the start. As documented above, he received five percent of the vote.

  4. JumboShrimp says:

    Lyons was drafted by the Yanks in 2009, went back to Oklahoma State for a senior campaign, 9th rounder by the Birds in 2010. He began pitching in 2011 at Palm Beach; spent 2012 at AA and AAA; and this season has a ho-hum WHIP of 1.4 at Memphis where batters are averaging .306 off him.

    Wacha is 3 years younger, his Memphis WHIP is an outstanding 0.9. Wacha may become a star, Lyons is a journeyman. We do not have to worry about starting Lyons’ service clock, because he will be lucky to play so long at ML as to earn ML free agency.

    However, I doubt Mo is deciding this based on service clock. For now, the roster decision may hinge on sheltering Wacha from the fish bowl of the majors. After fans become troubled by seeing Lyons get lit up, fan expectations for Wacha will be lower.

    • crdswmn says:

      I don’t give a whip about WHIP.

    • Brian Walton says:

      The only “journey” Lyons has been on is up through the Cardinals system.

      Another very odd comment:

      “After fans become troubled by seeing Lyons get lit up, fan expectations for Wacha will be lower.”

      • JumboShrimp says:

        The ceiling for Lyons is journeyman, as a starting pitcher. Perhaps if shifted to reliever, he might be effective. Time will reveal all. For now, as a starting pitcher, he has given up 10 more hits than innings pitched at AAA.

        Since Lyons has been ho-hum at AAA, he should be hittable in the majors as well. We will protect out prized Wacha for a while longer at AAA, while letting Lyons have a shot. If Lyons gets knocked around, fans will call for another pitcher. There will then be less pressure of fan expectations put on Wacha, if he later replaces a disappointing Lyons in the rotation. However, if Lyons pitches well, Mo wins that way too. Mo positions himself cleverly by promoting Lyons before Wacha.

  5. blingboy says:

    All I know about today’s game is the box score. Maybe Maness picked a bad time to get knocked around.

    Does anyone actually think Westbrook will be back?

    • JumboShrimp says:

      Maness allowed 2 runs in the 6th. I watched the 7th. He loaded them up with no out and pitched out of it with a pop and a double play. The 7th was great.
      Gast has been really good for 5 innings. That seems very helpful and sufficient.
      Westbrook is a tough old buzzard. If he turns out not to need another TJ tendon replacement, he will be back. We can use his leadership for the younger pitchers.

    • crdswmn says:

      You missed Kyle Lohse throwing a temper tantrum like a toddler.

  6. blingboy says:

    I’m OK with getting a chance to see another lefty. I’m thinking Luons is a stop gap. Once it set in that Jake and Jaime are gone, one of the pen guys will get stretched out and go into the rotation.

  7. blingboy says:

    Maybe we will have our co-aces anchoring the rotation after all. At this point, nothing would surprise me.

  8. JumboShrimp says:

    During spring training 2013, Mujica had an ERA above 8.

    Happily, he got this out of his system for games that don’t count.

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