ST. LOUIS — No Mujica? No problem. Not for the Cardinals and their kiddie corps of fireballers.
With closer Edward Mujica unavailable because of tightness in the back of his shoulder, manager Mike Matheny turned to a trio of rookies to preserve six innings of strong work by starter Joe Kelly on Thursday night.
Each of the youngsters handled their inning with no problems. Kevin Siegrist, 24, worked the seventh, Michael Wacha, 22, took care of the eighth and Trevor Rosenthal, 23, finished off the 6-2 victory over the Braves, which was only the Cardinals’ second in their past 10 meetings with Atlanta (regular season, that is).
All three allowed one base runner, though none allowed a runner to advance past second. All three showed off a power arm, with Siegrist and Wacha reaching 96 mph and Rosenthal touching 99. All three also proved efficient enough that Matheny didn’t need to call on either of the team’s other rookies relievers, Seth Maness and Tyler Lyons.
Siegrist and Rosenthal have been pitching consistently well for so long, it has become easy to take their performances for granted. Siegrist has pitched 12 1/3 innings this month without giving up a run while striking out 17. Rosenthal has endured a couple of rough spots since the All-Star break, but his numbers for the season remain sparkling: 2.58 ERA and 86 strikeouts in 60 1/3 innings.
Wacha, on the other hand, is just getting used to working out of the bullpen. This was his fourth appearance in nine days since the Cardinals decided to use him as a reliever. He did not allow a run in his first two games, but outing No. 3 did not go well. Called on with a 4-2 lead in the seventh, he gave up four hits and three runs before getting three outs. He was glad to have a shot at redemption.
“This is one perk of being a reliever,” he said. “You don’t have to wait five days til your next start. That last outing left a pretty sore taste in my mouth.”
As his appearance in Milwaukee was falling apart, Wacha started working so quickly it looked like he couldn’t wait to escape back to the dugout. He was much more in control against the Braves.
“That outing in Milwaukee was getting ahead of myself,” Wacha said. “Tonight I was trying to slow everything down and focus on one pitch at a time.”
Though the Cardinals were up four by the time Wacha entered, Matheny said he would have put in the lanky right-hander no matter what had been the lead.
“We have a lot of faith in him,” Matheny said. “We want him to know that the success he’s had should continue, and we trust him. It was a good day for him.”
While Wacha’s future remains in the rotation, he likely will spend the rest of this season working in relief. He says he can warm up quickly and, so far, his arm has bounced back quickly after he pitches. The next step will be appearing in back-to-back games.
“I’ve been real impressed how quick he rebounds,” Matheny said. “Every day he’s throwing, he comes back and says he feels real good. He promises us he’s being honest. We haven’t done the back-to-back thing yet, but it’s nice to know on that next day, he’s rebounding pretty quick. That’s a great sign about him handling this role as we go forward.”
Added Wacha, “I wouldn’t be surprised if it was pretty soon.”
Sounds like another guy who is finding his place in the Cardinals’ remarkable row of rookie relievers. You can follow Stan McNeal on Twitter at @stanmcneal or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.