PHILADELPHIA • As part of the committee approach to closing games the Cardinals will use until one reliever rises to the opportunity, manager Mike Matheny must measure when to redeploy Mitchell Boggs and in what role.
Boggs, now six games removed from the outing that moved the Cardinals to reorder the relief duties, is ready for whatever, whenever.
“I’m not going to hide from the fact that I think I can get the job done,” Boggs said Saturday. “I know these first few weeks have been tough on me. It hasn’t been pretty. At the same time there are 5½ months left and I expect to be a huge part of that equation. I understand each outing that I have, no matter when it is or what role. They’re all important to me. I’m trying to get that momentum back and once I do it’s going to be a lot of fun.”
The Cardinals are readying for the likelihood their regular closer won’t be back this season. Jason Motte, who had all 42 of the club’s saves last season, will intensify his workouts this week as the calendar inches toward a decision on his injured elbow. General manager John Mozeliak said the righthander plans to be “more aggressive” this week to gauge how much healing has taken place.
Motte has a torn ligament in his right elbow, and if he is unable to make progress by the start of next month — a deadline set by the club — he’ll have Tommy John surgery and miss the rest of the season. His absence leaves the Cardinals in a familiar situation, one they encountered at the beginning of 2011 before Motte took over at closer.
Five pitchers had at least one save for the Cardinals by the end of April 2011. That included three for Boggs. It wasn’t until the middle of May that Fernando Salas claimed the job for the next several months.
“The whole bullpen is more situation-driven right now,” Matheny said. “We’ll do what we have to do. We’re not going to hem ourselves in by claiming one thing or another. We’ll go night to night and see what gives us the best opportunity. Ideally, I think any team that has been successful for a consistent period of timeusually has a go-to guy there. That would be the best-case scenario.”
Boggs allowed a walk and hit in his scoreless inning of work Monday in Pittsburgh. That shaved his ERA down from 11.37 to 9.82, and it gave him a reset from his second blown save of the season. He pitched a scoreless ninth on Saturday in a non-save situation as the Cards beat the Phillies 5-0.
Boggs began the season with a delivery that started with him almost turning his back to the batter. He has opened up since to help gain better command. He’s identified his slider as the culprit for the recent hiccups. The breaking ball that Matheny urged him to find a way to throw for a strike back in 2012’s spring training now is getting too much of the plate. The last four hits Boggs allowed came on breaking balls.
“That pitch has to be a better pitch,” Boggs said.
ROBINSON’S RAIN CHECK
Four days after a rainout erased his first start of the regular season from the books, outfielder Shane Robinson was in the lineup Saturday, the last of the Cardinals’ current position players to start a game this season.
Against Phillies lefty Cliff Lee, Robinson took over in center, the righthanded alternative to usual starter Jon Jay, and he hit leadoff. He went 0 for four but scored a run. Robinson was the Cards’ third different leadoff hitter in four games — a nod to his leading the team in hitting at spring training.
“We just can’t let him sit around,” Matheny said. “He had such a strong spring and we have to take advantage of it by getting him at the top of the lineup and see if he can spark something.”
During his playing days, Matheny preferred some forewarning from the manager as to if he was going to play. He has tried to take the same approach with his players, especially the regulars. He started talking to catcher Yadier Molina a week ago about sitting out Friday’s game. Preparing Molina and telling Molina are different things.
“The guy fights every time we talk about getting him an inning off, let alone a game,” Matheny explained.
The manager described how he let Molina know on Thursday that his first day off was coming: “I took his glasses and put them on and said, ‘You wouldn’t hit a guy with glasses.’ That’s how we started the conversation. We’ve had this conversation before.”