x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

St Louis playing cards right with young pitching staff

Young pitching staff look like veteran stars at this point of the season, writes Gregg Patton.

Starter Michael Wacha made his MLB debut pitching against the Kansas City Royals at Busch Stadium on May 30, 2013 in St Louis.
Starter Michael Wacha made his MLB debut pitching against the Kansas City Royals at Busch Stadium on May 30, 2013 in St Louis.

Any team forced to press eight rookie pitchers into service in the first two months of the season is deserving of sympathy.

For the St Louis Cardinals, save your tears. They have the best record in baseball because of their young arms, not in spite of them.

"Amazing," said the catcher Yadier Molina, after the eighth rookie pitcher, the 21-year-old Michael Wacha, fresh out of the 2012 draft, limited the Kansas City Royals to two hits in seven innings last week. "They make my job easy."

St Louis have lost to injury the starting pitchers Jaime Garcia, Jake Westbrook and Chris Carpenter, as well as Jason Motte, the closer.

Normally, that would send a team to baseball's boondocks. Instead, the kids have been better than all right, helping lift the team to first in the National League Central, ahead of the Cincinnati Reds, the pre-season favourites.

The former first-round draft pick Shelby Miller has raised eyebrows with his 1.82 earned-run average, a high-90s fastball, and the near-perfect game he tossed against the Colorado Rockies last month.

The 22-year-old right-hander gave up a single to the first batter, then recorded 27 consecutive outs, 13 by strikeout.

He certainly is not alone in impressing.

When called up from the minor leagues as replacements, the fresh-faced left-handers John Gast and Trevor Lyons picked up three wins in their first three collective tries.

When Gast went on the disabled list, Wacha, who was pitching in college for Texas A&M a year ago, became the newest instant sensation. Mike Matheny, the manager, told ESPN he told Wacha to "be yourself".

He added: "It's a clear message we've shared with what seems a revolving door of young players. Pitch your game … trust the guys around you."

It's not just the rotation.

Motte went down before the season, forcing Matheny to shuffle his bullpen. He settled on Edward Mujica (17-for-17 in save opportunities) as his closer, and the rookie Trevor Rosenthal (2.08 ERA, 39 strikeouts in 26 innings) as the set-up man.

Recently, the right-handed Seth Maness, 24, was called up from the minor leagues to solidify the bullpen, as well, and went 4-1 in his first 12 innings.

"These guys are confident and have great stuff to go with it," said the veteran starter Adam Wainwright, who along with Lance Lynn, has managed to stay healthy. "It's a great mix."

He could say that about the entire staff. Their team earned-run average of 3.07 leads Major League Baseball. Lynn and Wainwright are a combined 14-4.

The offence has been steady enough, but this year it is about pitching, that bottomless well.




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