Cardinals will try to find help behind closer

By R.B. FALLSTROM
AP Sports Writer

JUPITER, Fla. (AP) — 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.”

Received 02/20/10 03:11 pm ET