For now, Boggs getting call in ninth inning

Hard-throwing Mitchell Boggs is perfect in his three save
chances since the St. Louis Cardinals demoted closer Ryan Franklin
last week.

Heading into a six-game trip that begins Tuesday at Houston,
manager Tony La Russa insists nothing has changed in the pecking
order. The official line from the top: Franklin’s responsibilities
are still being reduced to help get him back on track.

”Just watch the game,” La Russa said. ”We’re trying not to
use him at the end of games but he’s part of our bullpen.”

La Russa is obviously saving Boggs for the last three outs but
won’t anoint the right-hander, who has eight consecutive scoreless
appearances since allowing two runs on opening day.

Boggs can be intimidating with a mid-90s fastball and has 15
strikeouts in 12 1-3 innings. He is more of a typical closer than
the 38-year-old Franklin, who before this season had been
successful pitching to contact in hopes of inducing ground-ball
outs.

Boggs just keeps his head down and waits for the call.

”I know what my role on this team is and that’s to show up and
prepare myself to pitch at any point every single night,” Boggs
said after finishing off the Reds in a 3-0 victory on Sunday.

The 27-year-old Boggs was a fifth-round pick in 2006 out of
Georgia, and played one season of college football at Chattanooga.
He made 61 appearances last year in his first full season in the
majors, mostly in middle relief.

So far he’s risen to the top of a relief corps that, aside from
Franklin, is off to an impressive start.

Jason Motte, the likely backup closer option while the situation
is in flux, has a fastball in the high 90s and has six straight
scoreless outings. Rookie righty Eduardo Sanchez has 12 strikeouts
in seven scoreless innings. Fernando Salas has permitted one run in
six innings.

Trever Miller, the lone left-hander, leads the team with nine
appearances and has a 1.86 ERA, although he walked Jay Bruce with
the bases loaded for a blown save Saturday.

”I think we all believe we can be a strength of this team,”
Boggs said. ”There’s a lot of guys who are really talented, I
don’t see why we can’t be a strong point.”

La Russa has always asserted that closer is perhaps the most
important job on the team, and Boggs is getting a good sense of the
ninth-inning spotlight.

”You’re trying to go after guys with everything you’ve got,”
he said.

Franklin blew four of his first five save chances, a stretch
that looks much worse because of two games in which the defense let
him down. But he also has a 7.88 ERA and has surrendered four
homers in eight innings while allowing 15 baserunners.

Franklin shaved off half of his distinctive chin beard a week
ago to change his luck and sported a clean-shaven look for the
finale of a six-game homestand on Sunday. So far, it’s been more of
the same for a pitcher who converted 27 for 29 save opportunities
last year and was an All-Star in 2009.

Franklin yielded a tiebreaking, two-run single to Miguel Cairo
on an 0-2 pitch in the eighth inning of a 5-3 loss to the Reds on
Saturday. After retiring four straight batters in the seventh and
eighth in the first game of a doubleheader on Wednesday, Franklin
gave up a long homer by Laynce Nix and got booed by the home crowd
fans, prompting him to lash out and then apologize by the end of
the day.