Originally posted on Fox Sports Midwest  |  Last updated 5/30/12
ST. LOUIS - A conversation in Mike Mathenys office lasts more than 20 minutes. Questions about his struggling bullpen take up more than half the time. The first-year manager is quickly learning that handling a bullpen and all the decisions that come with it is one of the toughest tasks he has. And one of the most scrutinized. But despite the continued questioning about the Cardinals bullpen, their lack of a second left-hander and the dominoes that followed when Lance Lynn was moved into the starting rotation, Matheny stays positive through the give-and-take with reporters. Weve got the horsepower to do it, we saw that early, Matheny says. Its helpful when our starters take us deeper but we cant count on that all the time. It comes down to they just have to do their job and they know that. We have to get back to figuring out for me, once again, how to get them in positions where they can succeed. After coming up huge in the playoffs last year, many thought the Cardinals bullpen could be one of the best in the league entering 2012. And it looked like that may be the case in April, when the relievers posted a 2.70 ERA in 22 games. But a good majority of their success came because the starters were eating up innings and going deep into games, giving the bullpen less innings to cover and allowing Matheny to put guys in their proper roles. Its been a different story since the calendar turned to May. The starting pitching has struggled, and with more innings to cover, so has the bullpen. The Cardinals bullpen has a 5.08 ERA in May after being forced to fill more than 13 of an inning more per game in May. Instead of the recent trend of Cardinals starters going five or six innings, Matheny said the best way to fix the bullpen would be for the starters to start going seven or eight innings. Easier said than done of course. We could use a good run like that, Matheny explains. A good run like that, what it does is it helps define the roles. Until then your just plugging holes. When we lose our starter early, we just get healthy arms in there to eat innings and then guys that are going close to 30 pitches, your risking having to sit them the next night and then somebody else has to plug the ****. Thats kind of where weve been for a while. Much like last season, the Cardinals bullpen has been a work in progress. They hoped to have Lynn working in the seventh and eight innings after his dominant showing last year, but an injury to Chris Carpenter forced him into the rotation. Hes performed great as a starter and is tied for the league lead with a 8-1 record. Veteran reliever Scott Linebrink has yet to appear after being placed on the disabled list after just one game. Expected to fill a key spot such as the one held by Octavio Dotel late last season, Linebrink remains out but is making progress and hopes to return in a couple of weeks. Left-hander J.C. Romero was expected to serve as their late-inning lefty specialist but he was released following a rough three-game stretch in early May. Marc Rzepczynski currently serves as the only left-hander. Kyle McClellan is on the disabled list and is likely out until August with a strained elbow and a slight tear of his ulnar collateral ligament. And key right-handed setup man Fernando Salas, who led the club with 24 saves last year, was recently demoted to Triple-A after posting a 6.32 ERA in 18 games. Just three members of the Cardinals bullpen Jason Motte, Mitchell Boggs and Rzepczynski - opened the season with the big league club. Victor Marte, Brandon Dickson, Eduardo Sanchez and Chuckie Fick have been added in recent weeks after pitching in Triple-A to start the year. But despite the constant shuffling due to injuries and ineffectiveness, the bullpen knows they needs to start picking up the slack no matter who is on the mound. Thats an excuse and I think every single guy out there feels like they are capable of doing the job and has a lot of confidence in themselves, said Boggs. Injuries happen and we know that and weve seen that but thats not an excuse. Every single guy down there shows up every single night ready to go. Its been a tough stretch but we just have to keep battling and keep fighting and the breaks will start going our way. If you start worrying about different situations, youre putting yourselves behind the eight ball. Weve got some young guys out there but weve got some guys that are really talented. Were going to continue to go out there and fight. Thats all you can do. Were good enough to get the job done, theres no doubt about that. The Cardinals dropped to 3-9 in one-run games Tuesday night with a 5-4 loss to the Atlanta Braves. But the bullpen provided three scoreless innings and has quietly shown signs of starting to turn the corner. Since Salas was optioned to Memphis on Saturday, the Cardinals bullpen has allowed just two earned runs in 11 innings (1.64 ERA), six hits and four walks and has nine strikeouts. Eduardo Sanchez has been a big part of the recent resurgence, posting four scoreless innings over three appearances during the stretch. With Sanchez showing signs of becoming the late-inning guy the Cardinals need and Marte continuing to unexpectedly fill some key innings, the bullpen has reasons for optimism. And with Linebrink on the mend and Salas working out his struggles in Triple-A, the Cardinals might soon start to get the bullpen going on an extended role. That is, if the starters can start to go deeper into games. Theres still a lot of defining still to do with some roles in this pen, Matheny said. Were trying to put guys in roles where we think they can succeed and give us a chance to win. Im still confident with what we have and what Ive seen and whats yet to come. I know that weve seen some really nice outings from the majority of the guys in this pen and how that fits together if we get everybody rested. Were just going through a time right now where weve got some guys a little roughed up. Its all going to come back together. Matheny stays positive. Faced with plenty of adversity already, its all he can do. And if the last four games are any indication, the first-year skipper may be right.
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