Cardinals will try to find help behind closer

Ryan Franklin was one of the National League’s top closers last

year, even with an awful final month, a first-time All-Star for St.

Louis whose ERA hovered around one until early September.

The Cardinals have faith that a pitcher who’ll be 37 next month

and isn’t a strikeout machine can do the job again, enough that

they’re not trying to develop a backup this spring.

“It doesn’t matter to me,” Franklin said Saturday. “I’ve got

a couple of years, maybe three years left, and I want to win.

Whatever that takes, whatever they think, is totally fine with me

as long as I’m a part of it.”

Among the potential fill-ins are Jason Motte, who began last

year as the closer, and Mitchell Boggs. Both throw in the high 90s,

more of a typical closer template than Franklin, who is a

ground-ball pitcher.

“You always want a succession plan, and if something doesn’t

work you want to look for something internally first,” general

manager John Mozeliak said. “It’s just natural.”

Even with three blown saves in six September chances, Franklin

was 38 for 43 with a run of 13 straight ending in early September,

and a still very impressive 1.92 ERA overall.

“Not many big-time closers have six great months,” Franklin

said. “I think people read into it too much because it happened in

September.”

The beginning of Franklin’s poor finish came right after he

signed a two-year contract extension, and at the time he said it

might have contributed to a lack of focus. Pitching coach Dave

Duncan said the real reason was all the work Franklin had before

then.

Franklin made 12 appearances in July and 12 more in August,

converting 17 of 18 saves and allowing three earned runs in 22 2/3

innings. In August, he gave up no runs in 11 innings.

The rest of the way, Franklin was 2-2 with a 6.75 ERA and three

saves, allowing seven runs on 15 hits and 10 walks in 9 1-3

innings.

“We were winning a lot of games, they were there for him to

pitch in and that may have taken the edge off in September,”

Duncan said. “He’s a guy who’s shown when he’s physically strong

he’s a lot sharper.”

Though Franklin never complained of fatigue and often worked

more than an inning, the Cardinals shut him down for a short period

in the final month. This season, they’ll guard against getting to

that point by grooming the kids now.

“Ryan is so useful because he fields his position, he can stop

the running game, face right-handed and left-handed hitters, and we

can use him in the eighth inning sometimes,” manager Tony La Russa

said. “The better your club is, the more you need to have an extra

guy or two.”

Franklin said he’s not sure what happened during his late

tailspin, reasoning bad luck had a bit to do with it.

“It could be that ground balls were getting through the holes a

little more than they did in the other months,” Franklin said.

“It could be that I didn’t work as often. I really couldn’t

pinpoint one thing.”

Franklin has no patience for bloggers who believe because he

pitches to contact, his start last season was something of a

fluke.

“More times than not with this infield we have, they’re going

to catch the ball,” Franklin said. “And there’s a difference

between a laser ground ball and an ordinary ground ball, a grounder

that’s squared up and is going to get through no matter what and a

four-hopper.”

Mozeliak said last month that Franklin was his closer and people

could put that in “concrete.”

“That’s part of what helps you get past the rough ones,”

Franklin said. “You’ve got 24 guys in here pulling for you, too,

picking you up, and the manager and pitching coach supporting

you.”