JUPITER, Fla. – Cardinals reliever Mitchell Boggs made headlines in January when he didn’t shy away from putting high expectations on himself for the upcoming season.
Boggs, who was demoted to Triple-A for part of last season and was rarely used down the stretch, said at the team’s annual Winter Warm-Up that he felt he could compete with anyone in the league and expected to be “really good” this year.
Two months later as Boggs tries to win a spot in the Cardinals bullpen, he not only stands by what he’s said, but he’s glad he said it.
“I wanted to make sure that this organization knew that I wanted to be here,” Boggs said. “I want to be a part of this club and I want to make a difference and have an impact. If I didn’t feel like I could, it would be different, but I feel like I can.
“I’m just going to go out there and pitch. The numbers will take care of themselves. They have a way of working themselves out and I certainly do feel that if I go out and pitch the way I am capable of, I can help this team in a big way.”
Boggs had a rough first outing, allowing three hits and three runs to the Red Sox on March 8. He had a chance to get out of the inning but allowed a bases-clearing hit with two outs.
The next two outings were much better for the hard-throwing right-hander. Boggs had a perfect inning on March 12 against the Nationals and another scoreless frame two days later against the Astros on Wednesday.
“I feel like I’m throwing the ball really well,” Boggs said. “The last two outings have been really good results wise and the first outing, my stuff was outstanding. I feel like I’m throwing the ball pretty well right now so we’ll just continue to work and continue to do the things I need to do to get to where I need to be.
“The last two have been what I was looking for so it’s been good.”
Boggs posted a 3.56 ERA in 51 games with the Cardinals last season, his fourth in the big leagues, and earned the first shot to replace Ryan Franklin as closer when the veteran lost his job in late April.
But after earning saves in three straight appearances, Boggs allowed four hits, committed an error and let two runs score in his first blown save of the season in a 6-5 loss at Houston on April 26.
And that was apparently all manager Tony La Russa and pitching coach Dave Duncan needed to see to think Boggs wasn’t ready to close out games. When a save chance came up the next night, it was rookie Eduardo Sanchez who got the call.
His next three appearances came in the seventh or eight inning and his assignments began to come in less crucial situations. Boggs allowed five earned runs in his next seven appearances before getting the ultimate demotion – a trip back to Triple-A Memphis.
While the former coaching staff appeared to lose confidence in the right-hander, new manager Mike Matheny has not been shy about praising him.
“I think he’s a valuable piece,” Matheny said. “I think so and I know so. For him to get out there and continue to make good pitches and have good results, I think is a big part of our bullpen. … I wanted to encourage him that what he’s doing differently is going to work.
“Just a different mindset. Not trying to throw 98 just to throw 98 and watch the ball sail all over the place. Command the strike zone, use his sink more instead of throwing it as hard as you can, and he’s buying into it and he’s getting some results like he wants.”
Boggs appreciates the refreshing vote of confidence, saying, “To feel like I’ve got a manager who believes in me and has told me that, I appreciate that, but at the same time, I have to go out and make those comments he says, make them worth something.
“I have to go out and do my job and take that confidence that he has put in me and make good on it. I certainly feel like I can do that and I’m excited about this coming season and hopefully the opportunities I’ll get to make a difference.”
The Cardinals had Boggs start at Triple-A so he could use all of his pitches and work out some of his issues. He made four starts with Memphis and posted a 2.45 ERA before being called back up to St. Louis about a month later.
The move appeared to pay off as Boggs posted a 1.86 ERA in his first 16 games back with the big league club and had 16 strikeouts to just seven walks. The potential that excited so many about him was starting to come through.
But things went downhill quickly when the calendar turned to August. Boggs allowed runs in six of his ten appearances in the month and quickly again fell out of favor with those making the decisions. He made just six appearances in September.
Boggs entered with the Cardinals already losing in 28 of his 41 appearances after April 26. The game was tied four times when he entered and the Cardinals led in just nine games.
With the new confidence and fresh start this spring comes a new pitch. With the help of a few teammates, Boggs has developed a split-fingered pitch that he says will make him an even better pitcher.
“I can see the results already,” Boggs said. “It’s making my other pitches better so I don’t have to use them as much. If I can continue to progress with that, I certainly feel like it will be a weapon.
“My breaking ball has also been good and my sinker has been there, so I feel good right now. I just need to continue to progress and do the things I need to do to get to where I need to be.”
With a new pitch and a new outlook, Boggs could be primed for a big season in 2012.