ST. LOUIS Mitchell Boggs is talking a pretty strong game. Hell get a chance to start backing it up in less than two weeks.
Fresh off a disappointing season that saw him lose a chance at closing before eventually being demoted to Triple-A for a few weeks, the hard-throwing Boggs is out to prove hes a much better pitcher than hes showed so far.
My thought process heading into this year is to be as good as I can possibly be, Boggs said. And I feel like I can be pretty good. Whatever role it is, I dont care. Im going to pitch and my focus is going to be the best I can possibly be.
I dont want to stand up here and beat my chest and tell everyone how good I am, but I do expect to be pretty good. I feel like if I pitch the way Im capable of pitching, I can compete with anybody and I have no problem saying that.
Boggs posted a 3.56 ERA in 51 games with the Cardinals last season - his fourth in the big leagues - and earned the first shot to replace Ryan Franklin as closer when the veteran lost his job in late April.
But after earning saves in three straight appearances, Boggs allowed four hits, committed an error and let two runs score in his first blown save of the season in a 6-5 loss at Houston on April 26.
And that was apparently all manager Tony La Russa and pitching coach Dave Duncan needed to see to think Boggs wasnt ready to close out games. When a save chance came up the next night, it was rookie Eduardo Sanchez who got the call.
His next three appearances came in the seventh or eight inning and his assignments began to come in less crucial situations. Boggs allowed five earned runs in his next seven appearances before getting the ultimate demotion a trip back to Triple-A Memphis.
That was pretty dark for me, to be honest with you, Boggs said. It was pretty tough to go through pitching the ninth for a few days to starting in Triple-A three weeks later. Thats a pretty quick decent but I felt like I handled it pretty well.
Instead of focusing on getting the job done when he was on the mound, Boggs let the disappointment of pitching in less crucial spots get to him.
He plans to not let the same thing happen again this year.
Thats a part of growing up and maturing, Boggs said. You can control the things you can control and cant control the things that you cant control. Its a pretty easy statement to understand but I think at times, were all human.
I was worrying about where I was pitching and what role I was in and thats something this year that Im going to put aside and not worry about.
The Cardinals had Boggs start at Triple-A so he could use all of his pitches and work out some of his issues. He made four starts with Memphis and posted a 2.45 ERA before being called back up to St. Louis about a month later.
The move appeared to pay off as Boggs posted a 1.86 ERA in his first 16 games back with the big league club and had 16 strikeouts to just seven walks. The potential that excited so many about him was starting to come through.
But things went downhill quickly when the calendar turned to August. Boggs allowed runs in six of his ten appearances in the month and quickly again fell out of favor with those making the decisions. He made just six appearances in September.
Apparently afraid to use Boggs in key situations, the Cardinals were just 13-28 in the 41 games in which he pitched following the blown save in Houston in late April. The Cardinals were 4-13 in his last 17 outings after July 25.
Boggs entered with the Cardinals already losing in 28 of his 41 appearances after April 26. The game was tied four times when he entered and the Cardinals led in just nine games.
I think the situations that you are in mean a lot to guys, Boggs said. And when you are out there and its a one run game and your team is winning, you know those are big outs. And not to say when you are down by five runs and youve got to go out there and get some outs that those arent big outs too.
They are all big in the big leagues and thats the stance Ive always taken, that every time I pitch, its important to me, whether its important to anyone else or not. I take it very seriously and I will continue to do that.
The Cardinal currently have a plethora of relievers as they prepare for pitchers and catchers to report on February 18. Marc Rzepczynski and newcomer J.C. Romero are expected to man the left side while right-handers Boggs, Kyle McClellan, Jason Motte, Lance Lynn, Eduardo Sanchez and Fernando Salas all have credentials worthy of a spot.
But an eight-member bullpen is unlikely, meaning one of the six right-handed pitchers will likely be gone either in a trade or a demotion back to Triple-A before the season starts.
After experiencing an up-and-down 2011, Boggs plans on earning his spot in the bullpen and meaningful appearances with a strong showing this spring. And with new manager Mike Matheny and new pitching coach Derek Lilliquist, Boggs hopes to take advantage of a fresh start.
I want to be a guy that expects to be really good, Boggs said. I dont want to be a guy that just wants to hang around and be there. I want to be a guy that can make a difference and I feel like I can do that. I think I would be cheating myself if I didnt expect that from myself.
If I dont expect to be really good, nobody else is going to expect me to be really good. My thought process and what I expect from myself is going to be pretty high. I look forward for the opportunity to go out and kind of back that up.