Although a thin bench has been tested by two extra-inning games already this week and a doubleheader Thursday, the Cardinals are committed to an eight-man bullpen for the foreseeable future, officials said.
One reason is caution.
The Cardinals have taken a conservative approach with former closer Trevor Rosenthal, first avoiding using him on back-to-back days and then, on Tuesday, being hands off entirely. Carrying an extra reliever allows the team to tread carefully with workloads, whether it’s for lefty Kevin Siegrist or Rosenthal.
“He said he was a little sore, so we back off,” manager Mike Matheny said. “Especially with that lat (muscle) spot. That wasn’t the case (Tuesday). If he was sore in that lat spot then we’re going to be really conservative, but if he has general soreness, you know there’s going to be compensation somewhere else.”
In his first 5 1/3 innings this season, Rosenthal has struck out 11 and allowed two earned runs. He’s served as an alternate closer when Seung Hwan Oh isn’t available, and his return from the disabled list was a pivot for the bullpen’s overall performance. In Thursday's doubleheader, Rosenthal handled a scoreless ninth for the save in the evening win, and he touched 102 mph with his fastball.
The Cardinals want to see efficiency and next-day strength before pushing Rosenthal into back-to-back work.
Matheny agreed that Rosenthal entered the regular season under a yellow flag because of the lat strain he sustained and aggravated, twice, during spring training. The Cardinals traced some of Rosenthal’s soreness to the difficulty he had recovering from multiple-inning usage during spring, and that factored into how they envisioned his role when he returned.
Matheny told the pitchers that he makes three stops each day to determine their availability: the medical staff, the pitching coach, and the individual. With an emphasis on the medical staff’s opinion, if a concern is raised at any of those three stops, the reliever may be unavailable for a day. That has also kept some of the roles in flux. Matheny mentioned how Jonathan Broxton as, at times, been used to shoulder innings — or in spots Rosenthal would have been assigned.
In Tuesday’s extra-inning game, Broxton, Oh, and Rosenthal were unavailable after Matheny’s three-step check. Oh pitched the 10th inning in Thursday’s first game, and Rosenthal was warming up for any innings beyond the 11th.
“We’ll be aggressive when all those points check out,” Matheny said. “If they feel good, medical team likes it, and pitching coach likes the amount of workload that he’s had we’ll be aggressive.”
LYONS APPEARS, COULD START
By stacking starters Carlos Martinez and Adam Wainwright for Thursday’s doubleheader, the Cardinals invited the possibility that one of them would make their next start on short rest. An alternative emerged Thursday.
For the first time since his return to the majors a week ago, lefty Tyler Lyons appeared, pitching into and then out of a mess in the seventh inning of the first game. Matheny suggested that, if necessary, Lyons could make Monday’s start against Milwaukee to allow Martinez or Wainwright at least the standard four days of rest. Lyons allowed one run on one hit and one walk in his first two innings in the majors since knee surgery. He had only previous pitched in a rehab assignment at Class AAA – and then warmed up several times in the past week.
Getting Lyons at least an inning was a priority Thursday, game permitting.
“We’d like to see him pitch, but we have to go after every win,” Matheny said. “We can’t just throw a guy to throw him if he doesn’t fit into a situation. That just doesn’t make sense. We have to have ourselves guarded in case the situation puts us in a spot where we need someone to throw multiple innings, and that’s kind of what he does.”
As the Cardinals’ de facto No. 6 starter and their emergency long reliever, Lyons has had the challenge of staying sharp and maintaining stamina with only warmups since his last rehab start, on April 17. His potential substitute start could get scrubbed based on the forecast. A rainout this weekend would allow the Cardinals to chug along without need of a gap starter.
“Lyons gives us some flexibility,” the manager said.
For the third time in the past week, the Cardinals had a runner caught sneaking off second base — a location not the scene of many pickoffs but one that’s become emblematic of the Cardinals’ baserunning eccentricities. In the fifth inning of Thursday’s first game, Kolten Wong raced for a leadoff double, and while at second he was caught straying as Martinez missed on a bunt. At least one of the other times the Cardinals have had a runner caught off second it has been related to a bunt play.
“It’s usually on a bunt play,” Matheny said. “Something we don’t want to happen. Once again, we’re talking about guys who want to balance that aggressiveness with smart play. Sometimes, it’s easier than others.”
Entering Tuesday’s evening game, the Cardinals had been picked off base four times this season, the most in the majors. A dozen teams have yet to be picked off at all. Wong’s out goes into the box score as a caught stealing — the Cardinals’ fifth of the season. In their first 21 games, the Cardinals have had five innings worth of outs caused by their baserunning.
With the afternoon victory against the Blue Jays, the Cardinals completed their set. They have at least one win at Busch Stadium III against the other 29 teams, with Texas being the only team to remain unbeaten in the regular season at the 11-year ballpark. The Cardinals defeated the Rangers memorably at Busch in the 2011 World Series. … Reliever Sam Tuivailala was promoted from Class AAA Memphis’ bullpen as the Cardinals’ 26th man for Thursday’s doubleheader. By rule, Tuivailala was only available and in uniform for the evening game. Since his previous demotion, the righthander has yet to allow a run in 6 1/3 innings at Memphis. … After missing 12 days due to a concussion, prospect Magneuris Sierra returned to the High-A lineup with a three-hit game Tuesday. Sierra, who had a standout spring in major-league camp, has hit .311 with a .415 on-base percentage in 11 games. … Allen Cordoba, the 21-year-old shortstop the Cardinals left unprotected and saw snatched by San Diego, has started four games for the Padres, hit his first big-league home run and earned a .706 OPS through his first 28 plate appearances. … In the second inning of Thursday’s first game, Wong set a new career high with his fourth intentional walk. … The Cardinals will announce the 2017 class for the team’s Hall of Fame during a special Friday on Fox Sports Midwest. Fans selected players to be honored from a ballot of Steve Carlton, Keith Hernandez, Jason Isringhausen, Mark McGwire, Tim McCarver, Edgar Renteria, and Scott Rolen.