Mike Matheny has been criticized by fans for his use of the bullpen, but his latest move may have saved the St. Louis Cardinals season.
St. Louis Cardinals manager Mike Matheny has been heavily criticized by fans for his use of the bullpen. His tendency to lean heavily on his studs in relief has reaped rewards in the past, but players like Kevin Siegrist and Trevor Rosenthal have felt the brunt of it. Siegrist has looked fatigued at times—and it doesn’t seem like a stretch to place most of the blame for Rosenthal’s disaster of a season on Matheny’s shoulders.
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On Tuesday night, in one of the most important games of the year, Matheny made a very bold decision—one that may have saved the Cardinals’ season. Jaime Garcia surrendered 2 runs in less than 2 innings of work, and Matheny pulled him after he walked Fowler to load the bases in the 2nd inning.
With 2 outs and the omnipotent Kris Bryant at the plate, the St. Louis skipper turned to rookie Alex Reyes. The kid responded: Striking out Bryant with a 97 MPH heater. Reyes went on to toss 4.1 scoreless innings—striking out 4, despite walking 6, on just 1 hit allowed. The Cards would go on to win 4-2, and Reyes was awarded the win.
The Mets had already won, and that was close to a must-win game in St. Louis. There’s just over 10% of the season remaining, and the Cards are hanging onto their playoff hopes for dear life. They’re staring at another game against the Cubs, a series in San Francisco, and another series in Chicago. Every decision, and every game counts right now.
Matheny’s latest decision may have bought him some favor with the folks in St. Louis for the time being, but it also gives him another one to make down the road. Many fans and writers have called for Reyes to stay in the rotation, and you can count me in that group. There is however, a separate camp that believes Reyes is most effective when used from the bullpen like he was last night against Chicago.
Carlos Martinez is the only starter with a sub-4 ERA, and injuries have forced Matheny to start Reyes twice. He’s more than held his own in that role, flashing brilliance at times, but he’s racked up high pitch counts in both starts. The truth is, for all the issues with the rotation, the bullpen needs just as much help. The bullpen ERA is 3.60, good for 6th in the NL, but they currently sit 12th in innings pitched, despite a struggling rotation.
The redbirds have but one true playoff starter in Martinez, and Adam Wainwright can be expected to make that rotation as well—despite his struggles this season. Several weeks ago, I argued that Reyes should get a look for the third spot in the rotation over Garcia. While Garcia reaffirmed my worries on Tuesday night, I also witnessed the value Reyes has in the pen.
The playoffs are far from guaranteed for this team, and maybe using Reyes as an innings eater for this beaten-and-battered bullpen is their best shot of reaching them. Mike has a big decision to make with how he decides to use the rookie. But right now this team has to take things one game at a time, and last night Matheny saved the game—if not the season—by turning to Reyes.