September 5, 2008

Duck? Or let it hit you?

Fans of the St. Louis Cardinals got a futuristic snapshot of what may well become the bullpen's "go-to" order of relief. We're talking mid-relief, set-up man, and closer, but Cardinal Nation may not have recognized the scenario at the time.

And for good reason, as the Cards were suffering their twelfth ninth-inning loss of the season at Chase Field in Arizona.

Two of the three pitchers in mind didn't exactly have a great game that day, but have proven themselves over time. Those two would be Kyle McClellan and Chris Perez. The other fellow, the guy who had Diamondbacks' hitters shaking their heads and muscling up for more bat speed, well, he had Redbirds' fans agasp with heat that exceeded that of Perez.

The last fireballer was Jason Motte, pitching in his major league debut, in a situation that counted for something. Motte gave the Cardinals four critical outs at the time, but MPH and minor league stats aside, the man gave the Cardinals a presence on that mound, as if he was saying: This is my mound, now get in the (bleeping) box so I can strike you out. Next. Next. Inning over? Not enough, still hungry, more batters, NOW!

Potential roles then, would be: McClellan in mid-relief; Perez as set-up man (8th inning); Motte as closer. This scenario gives you all kinds of configuration possibilities with the rest of the "more experienced" crew. But regardless of how you would set things up if you were in charge, with the recent re-appearance of the new and improved Perez, plus the sonic entrance of Motte, you suddenly have a chance at refurbishing a bullpen that has had a down year.

And in case you haven't noticed, all three of the praised pitchers are rookies.

In McClellan's case (and we've printed this before), it's difficult to think of him as a rookie, with his bevy of appearances and solid performances, with only a few short-term rough patches which he worked through like any other seasoned pitcher would. So it might be hard to get real excited about McClellan right now, but that's because we've taken him for granted already. That's how well he has done this year.

Presently, McClellan's dilemma is more than likely that he is in first big league year, and he has a bit too much season on him right now. In fact, you wouldn't be out of line if you've been wondering if he hasn't been overused a bit, and would like to see a reduction in his innings, if possible.

But while McClellan had arrived, and stayed, Perez has been down and up, re-tooling, and has re-appeared with not only better mechanics and a workable slider, but an aggressive attitude that found Wednesday come out as his only blown save. A young man like Perez can learn as much form that experience as he can from a notched save. When you step back, the ordeal in Arizona shows as just another small dent in a season riddled with dings and dangs and bents and by-gollies, for replacement of words and phrases heard closer to the actual playing field.

An atmosphere of hope, more than miles per hour, is what the Cardinals' bullpen got when Motte toed the rubber, his swagger surely soon to be hated by the fans of opposing teams. It's something like the Valverde exposition of confidence, only without the It's all about me impression.

And as for Motte's heater, one can only describe it by twisting an old tale (that may have had Nolan Ryan as the subject pitcher), supposing, in our case, Motte, that if you're in a barrel of (let's say, poop) poop, then, and Jason Motte throws a fast ball at your head, what do you do?

Duck? Or let it hit you?

photos by Barbara Moore