ST. LOUIS – Mitchell Boggs has certainly backed up his preseason talk.
The hard-throwing reliever made headlines over the winter when he said at the Cardinals’ annual Winter Warm-Up charity event that he felt he could compete with anybody in the league and expected to be “really good” this year.
Coming from a guy who was demoted to Triple-A for part of last season and was rarely used as the Cardinals made their historic comeback down the stretch, some were skeptical of Boggs’ bold predictions.
The critics are nowhere to be found now.
Boggs rolled off his 23rd consecutive scoreless appearance Sunday night, the longest stretch for a Cardinals right-hander since at least 1918. Serving as the Cardinals primary eighth inning setup man, he’s posted a microscopic 1.51 ERA in 50 games.
“I think keeping that mindset I had early on of not worrying about expectations or roles and focusing on me and focusing on the capabilities I have of helping this team, that’s something I’ve tried to make my focus from day one and it’s something that has been beneficial for me and something I’m going to continue to do,” Boggs said.
The right-hander has allowed just 39 hits and two home runs in 47 2/3 innings. He has 36 strikeouts to just 12 walks and has held right-handed batters to a .181 batting average.
It’s been night and day from a frustrating 2011 campaign when Boggs posted a 3.56 ERA in 51 games but fell out of favor with manager Tony La Russa and was used when the Cardinals were winning in just nine of his final 41 appearances.
Things got so rough for the right-hander that he was sent to Triple-A Memphis for a few weeks to work out of his struggles.
Said manager Mike Matheny, “He’s shown that if you do make those bold statements, you better have the stuff to back it up and he’s always had the stuff, he just needed that confidence to make sure he believed it and success has allowed him to be there.”
Matheny helped Boggs’ confidence by using him as the eighth inning setup guy from the first game of the season. He’s remained there ever since, setting up a near lights-out combination of Boggs in the eighth inning and closer Jason Motte in the ninth.
“We needed him,” Matheny said. “I give a lot of credit to Derek Lilliquist and Mitchell for making the adjustments they needed to make and his stuff and his approach, just the mental side and that turned into some success and that success is just a powerful thing when you match that up with good stuff.”
Said Boggs on his current 23 appearance scoreless streak, “I’ve been doing a good job of showing up and being consistent and going out there and executing pitches. I’m going to continue to do that, whether I have a runless streak going or I give up runs three games in a row. I’ll show up the next day and be prepared for that night and that’s been my focus all year and it’s worked for me and I’m going to stay that way.”
The Cardinals are 13-4 in their last 17 games and reached 11 games over .500 for the first time all season on Monday night. The bullpen has been a big reason why, entering Monday’s series opener against the Giants with a 2.58 ERA since the All-Star break.
Edward Mujica has made four scoreless appearances as the new seventh inning setup man since arriving from the Miami Marlins. And lefty Brian Fuentes has looked impressive since signing as a free agent after he was released by Oakland.
The pieces are starting to fall into place for the Cardinals bullpen as they look to make a run at another playoff appearance. And the continued dominance by Boggs has been a huge factor.
“You certainly feel like everybody down there has the ability to come into a game and get outs and help us win,” Boggs said. “I think we can be a big part of this team putting together a really nice streak down the stretch and I know every single guy down there feels that way.
“I know adding Mujica and Fuentes were big additions because both those guys know what they are doing and are veteran guys who can help us. I think we all realize that we have the opportunity to help us win games.”