Off Day Relief

I guess they won't be missing Oswalt so much after all. It's amazing how inelastic my subjective idea of this offense has gotten; even after all the acquisitions and the recent Rick Ankiel renaissance, even though I am a basically rational observer of baseball who has never once called into a radio program and hasn't gotten truly angry at a baseball game since some time in 2005, I wasn't surprised when a rookie, who walked Mad Max-style out of the post-apocalyptic wasteland that is the Astros farm system, took a no-hitter five innings deep. I can't shake it: for the rest of the season I'll be imagining Chris Duncan and Rick Ankiel, even as I'm watching Matt Holliday and Rick Ankiel. 

What's wasted is worth considering, anyway, if we've got an off-day to burn. More exciting than Wainwright's sterling outing—he is sterling, and that's all there is to it—were the two scoreless innings from the bullpen, which has been just this side of a meltdown for most of the season. First: Jason Motte! It's been really disappointing to see Motte struggle the way he has for much of this season, because his is the kind of reliever profile that is best served completely and consistently dominant. Even if he's exactly as valuable as, for an example, Dave Weathers, I need to see Motte come storming in with his tics and his fastball and mow hitters down. He can give up all the home runs, but I need more strikeouts and fewer base hits to feel fulfilled as a baseball fan. 

So it was nice to see him do his thing and hit 99, if not the elusive ATG 100. I'm still a little wary of the zero-days-rest explanation for his problems; it makes sense, for one thing, and I'm at the point where I'm wariest of things that are intuitive. For what it's worth he did strike out four in his 2 1/3 perfect 2008 innings on zero rest; that brings the ERA all the way down to 9.58. But there's just not enough extended MLB success for me to see anything but a guy who is inconsistently effective, and often used by his manager, who seems to see him as a LOOGY-type short reliever, on back-to-back days. 

Meanwhile: Blake Hawksworth? Yesterday's Blake Hawksworth, who brought his fastball all the way up to ATG 95 and threw some cutter/slider/sinker in the high 80s, was completely different from the one who'd shown up to this point. The fastball and the cutter took their one-inning jump in a hurry, but strangest was the fact that he didn't throw a single changeup, which, to this point, had been 25% of his repertoire. 

I've said a lot—especially relative to the thought and analysis that was put into it—that Hawk's pitching is poorly predisposed to relief work. The low-nineties fastball, the out-pitch changeup, the get-me-over curveball; post-surgery his stuff just isn't befitting the Jason Motte type. 

So he decided to throw it all out. I don't know how useful Hawksworth's going to be to this team at all—this is the first season he hasn't looked completely lost since 2006, the first year his long rehab took. But so far he's shown some surprise velocity and an ability to adapt to two different, basically thankless roles. If he takes, either as a reliable righty reliever or a back-of-the-rotation starter who doesn't evoke the Wellemeyer Response, great; if not, cheap replacement pitchers certainly come worse. 

With that in mind, an off-day discussion topic, not that we've needed one lately: what does the bullpen look like next year? Franklin, Motte, and McClellan, the shaky top of the right-handed pen, would seem to be shoo-ins. Will the Cardinals drop someone on top of them, or hope that replacing Kinney and co. at the bottom is enough?

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