ST. LOUIS – New Cardinals manager Mike Matheny has no problem doing what former skipper Tony La Russa refrained from.
Yes, Jason Motte is indeed the closer.
“Jason has certainly positioned himself as we head into Spring Training as the closer,” Matheny said.
Tell that to Motte and he’ll joke back with, “Watch your mouth.”
The mini-controversy was a source of jokes for media members and fans down the stretch last year as Motte continued to close out games and La Russa continued to refuse from calling him the closer.
But whether or not La Russa wanted to call Motte the closer didn’t matter. The stats proved otherwise. Motte saved nine games on the year, eight of which came in September as he solidified his spot heading into the playoffs.
Motte had five saves in the playoffs and was on the mound for the final out of both the National League Championship Series and World Series.
“It didn’t matter to me what they called me,” Motte said. “I just wanted to go out there and if I was pitching in the seventh, eighth, ninth, 12th, whatever – I just wanted to go out there and give my team a chance a win.
“It doesn’t matter what they call you, it’s what you do out there on the field. They can call you whatever you want, but it’s all about your performance on the field. I don’t look at it any differently.”
After a rough rookie year in which he posted a 4.76 ERA in 69 games in 2009, Motte has turned into a dominant reliever the past two seasons. He posted a 2.24 ERA in 2010 and a 2.25 ERA last year.
Motte faced 268 batters last season and allowed just two home runs. He had 63 strikeouts and allowed 49 hits in 68 innings, showing the dominant stuff that typical closers possess.
Unlike former closer Ryan Franklin who relied on control and rarely got strikeouts, Motte’s upper-90’s fastball proved to be a dangerous weapon in the ninth inning.
The 29-year-old Motte was almost unhittable in the playoffs, giving up just five hits to 43 batters in 12 1/3 innings. He allowed runs in just two of his 12 appearances and had a 2.19 ERA.
But despite the success in the biggest of situations last fall, Motte plans on trying to keep a level head as Spring Training opens this weekend.
“I don’t look at it any different,” Motte said. “I still have to go in there and get myself ready for spring and do what I need to do to get my arm and my body ready. I’m not looking at it any differently.
“I’m trying to go out there and prove that I belong on the team just like I did my first spring in 2008 and 2009 and 2010 and last year. I’m going to prove that I belong and in this game.”
Matheny’s willingness and openness to confirm Motte’s stance as the closer to start the spring was a welcomed change for media and fans alike. Players likely appreciated it too.
After a year in which La Russa hoped to alleviate pressure by refusing to name a closer, Motte appears ready to embrace his now official role.
“I don’t think Tony found it very funny,” Motte said. “You guys were probably the only one that thought it was a joke. I didn’t care. It didn’t matter to me. “
The title may not matter. But having Motte closing out games to start the year could pay big dividends for Matheny and the Cardinals this season.