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NOTEBOOK

The Ryan Rules: Cardinals stay cool using hotshot reliever Helsley to save him for 'long haul'

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Cardinals win 7-5 over Diamondbacks, split series

St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Ryan Helsley works the ninth inning to a 7-5 victory over the Arizona Diamondbacks at Busch Stadium on Sunday, May 1, 2022. Photo by Robert Cohen, rcohen@post-dispatch.com

The Cardinals’ measured use of Ryan Helsley even as he asserts his place as a late-inning force is engineered to avoid the temptation of turning too quickly, too often to the right-hander.

They’ve seen relievers burn bright in May, burn out by September.

“The most important thing with Helsley is keeping him healthy for 162 games — that is at the top of our list,” manager Oliver Marmol said. “We’re seeing a very good pitcher with electric stuff and who is going to close out games and pitch in high-leverage situations. How do we keep that for the duration of the season? It’s by doing what we’ve done up to this point. Is it ideal night to night? No. Is it best for Helsley and our club in the long run? I think so.”

The Ryan Rules explain why twice in the past week the Cardinals had a pivotal situation, seemingly primed for Helsley, and he did not appear.

In Monday’s game, rookie Andre Pallante entered with the bases loaded, two outs, and Toronto leadoff hitter George Springer at the plate. Earlier in the day the Cardinals determined based on recent use that Helsley could give them one inning, no more. If he had been available for four or more outs, Helsley would have gotten the seventh-inning assignment with the bases loaded. The decision at that point became using Helsley for the one at-bat against Springer or save him for when he did pitch — when the Blue Jays’ lineup wrapped back around to Springer in the ninth.

Pallante walked in two batters. Helsley pitched a scoreless ninth before Paul Goldschmidt’s walk-off grand slam won Monday’s game in the 10th.

“We’ve seen it, year after year, we’ll sit here and talk about a guy who is dominating and then we hit September, and it’s like (gosh) they used him too much,” Marmol said. “And now he doesn’t have anything left. Which one do you want?”

Helsley, 27, has a 0.00 ERA through 15 2/3 innings this season. He’s struck out 26 of the 52 batters he faced, has allowed only two hits, and he’s mixed four holds with two saves. He’s touched 103 mph with his fastball, unnerved hitters with his breaking pitches, and he’s also yet to appear on back-to-back days. He will, but only if off days and usage dictates because the Cardinals want to avoid overtaxing the right-hander or having him untouchable for consecutive days. During a recent stretch, he warmed up for four appearances, and the warmups counted against how many pitches he could be counted on in the game.

The Cardinals’ caution stems from Helsley returning from a knee surgery and a bone injury in his elbow that ended his 2021 season.

But it’s been reinforced by performance. That answers Marmol’s question.

“I want two things,” Marmol said. “I want Helsley for the long haul. But also we need other guys to step up on the days he’s not going.”

DeJong lifts Redbirds

In his first home game with Class AAA Memphis since the Cardinals sent him there to revive his swing, Paul DeJong went three-for-five with a home run and five RBIs on Tuesday in a 9-4 win against the Cubs’ Triple-A affiliate. In his first 10 games with the Redbirds, the former All-Star has hit .238 with a .381 slugging percentage and three doubles.

“Go down, figure out what you need to do in order to get back up here, (and) we have an idea of what that is,” Marmol said of the assignment given DeJong. “It’s a matter of giving it time to come into play without the pressure of performing win-loss at the big-league level, where the scrutiny is just a tick higher.”

Noot’s new bat, big day

From his first professional three-homer game, Nootbaar did not keep any of the baseballs or pocket the lineup card. He did however bring something to the majors from it.

“I kept the bat,” he said Monday. “I’ll be swinging it today.”

On Sunday, in Gwinnett, Ga., Nootbaar hit three homers, had seven RBIs, and punctuated his day with a grand slam. He did that with a new model bat he started swinging three days earlier. Nootbaar, who missed 10 days at Memphis with an ankle injury, received his first shipment of Marucci counterbalance balance bats, the individualized model with a puck-like knob. It’s the model favored for increased bat speed by Paul Goldschmidt and Nolan Arenado for the first time this season. Nootbaar was five-for-11 with four extra-base in his first three games with his new bat model.

Marmol plans to get Nootbaar a start soon.

Trio of prospects promoted

A trio of vaunted prospects, each of whom was a revelation during spring training, received promotions Tuesday to Class AA Springfield, putting them on the brink of the major-league radar. Right-hander Michael McGreevy, the Cardinals’ first-round pick in 2021, and 2020 second-round pick Masyn Winn, a shortstop, joined right-hander Gordon Graceffo on the leap from High-A Peoria to the S-Cards.

Hard-throwing McGreevy went 3-1 with a 2.58 ERA in eight starts at Class A with 41 strikeouts in 45 1/3 innings. Harder throwing Graceffo, who sports a 100-mph fastball, was 3-2 with an 0.99 ERA in eight starts, and he has 56 strikeouts in 45 2/3 innings. Winn, drafted in 2020 as a two-player player, has had a breakthrough and breakout offensively, batting .349 with a .404 on-base percentage and a .970 OPS in 33 games. He’s 15-for-15 on steal attempts.

Catchers’ corner

The Cardinals expect Yadier Molina back before Thursday’s opener against Milwaukee so that he can make a 313th start with Adam Wainwright. Molina returned home to Puerto Rico to be present as his son had surgery following an arm injury. … Before Tuesday’s game, the Cardinals presented Hall of Fame catcher Ted Simmons with a scaled-down replica of his statue that’s outside Busch Stadium. … Having already started at shortstop, second base, third base, right field, and first base in his first big-league month, Brendan Donovan is also the Cardinals’ emergency catcher. He and Edmundo Sosa have some familiarity with the position.

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