ST. LOUIS At least three times this season, Mike Matheny has made a late-inning pitching decision that has backfired on the Cardinals. At least three times, the second-guessers have had a field day questioning his moves.
On May 30, with a 2-1 lead, he brought in Mitchell Boggs to close out the Royals. Boggs gave up a game-tying homer to Jeff Francoeur on his second pitch, and the Cardinals went on to lose 4-2 though not before a four-and-a-half hour rain delay.
On June 23, Adam Wainwright took a 1-0 lead over the Rangers into the seventh and, after retiring the first two hitters, gave up a double and single to tie the game. Matheny pulled his ace in favor of Trevor Rosenthal who, following an error by Pete Kozma that would have ended the inning, gave up the winning hit in what became a 2-1 loss.
On Thursday night in Anaheim, with the Cardinals up 5-3, Matheny sent out Wainwright for the ninth inning. But after Wainwright gave up a broken-bat single to Albert Pujols, Matheny quickly turned to his previously perfect closer, Edward Mujica. Josh Hamilton promptly tied the game with a two-run homer and three hits later, the Cardinals were watching the Angels celebrate a walk-off win.
And even some close to Matheny were second-guessing his decision. Former closer Jason Isringhausen said on the Fox Sports Midwest post-game show that he would have handled the ninth inning differently. Former pitching coach Dave Duncan said the same during his regular Friday spot on his son Chris’ radio show.
You can be sure they weren’t alone in town wondering why Matheny didn’t 1) start Mujica in the ninth, 2) stay with his ace after one broken-bat hit or 3) bring in a lefty to face the lefty-hitting Hamilton.
Matheny explained his decision by the numbers. As in, 21 saves in 21 chances for Mujica.
“What more could you ask for him to do,” Matheny said. “He’s been terrific. He’ll continue to do so. Some days, it doesn’t work out right. But I’m excited to get him back on the mound.”
Both Isringhausen and Dave Duncan were careful not to criticize Matheny, in part because they have shared a dugout with him. Both also pointed out that second-guessing is as much a part of watching baseball as eating popcorn.
Matheny understands this, too, as much as he sometimes seems bothered to have us know-it-all sports writers questioning his decisions. He probably second-guesses himself more than anyone because he’s reviewing his moves even after they work.
“If you’re not second-guessing yourself, I don’t think you care,” Matheny said before Friday’s game against the Marlins. “We care around here. So yeah, we talk about it all the time.”
He isn’t opposed to making changes, either. Boggs was sent to the minors the day after the Royals’ loss and hasn’t pitched in the majors since. Wainwright has been given a longer leash since the Rangers’ defeat.
In fact, Wainwright might have been given too much rope on Thursday night. Or maybe he wasn’t given enough. Your second guess is as good as any.
Carpenter comeback on the uptick
After Chris Carpenter threw more than 100 pitches in a five-inning simulated game Friday, Matheny was as encouraged as he’s been in the two-plus month process.
“He threw very well,” Matheny said. “Very sharp. He got extended, too. Seemed to throw just as good in the fifth as he did in the first. You can see his stamina is there. He is in terrific shape.”
Carpenter agreed with his manager, saying he was very encouraged by the session.
So what’s next? Another bullpen? Live batting practice? Minor-league rehab?
Whatever is next, you can count on Carpenter and the Cardinals to continue to proceed with caution. As they should.
As general manager John Mozeliak ponders what to do before the July 31 trade deadline, it would be nice if he knew what the club might get from Carpenter in the stretch. But if Carpenter’s latest comeback attempt has taught us anything, it’s that the Cardinals have no idea what to expect, or when to expect it. The nerve issues that have plagued his neck and right shoulder could return unannounced at any time.
If he could beat the odds and return to pitching like Chris Carpenter in 2011, he would give the Cardinals a lift as great as any trade. If he doesn’t come back, his effort certainly won’t be faulted. At this point, the good news is that his comeback bid remains alive.
Yadier Molina notable number of the week
Six hundred and seventy-four innings behind the plate this season going into Friday night. Molina leads all catchers in innings caught, with 11 2/3 innings more than Arizona’s Miguel Montero. Montero has led the majors in innings caught for the past two years; Molina has led only once, in 2010.
You can follow Stan McNeal on Twitter at @stanmcneal or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.