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The Dismantling of a Rotation

The Cardinals have gone 1-1 against the Angels so far. Unfortunately, the news out of each game is more about their starters being 0-for-2.  Brad Penny was placed on the DL with what initial reports are labeling a minor lat strain. The Cardinals called up PJ Walters to supplement the pitching staff. Walters had a tragic personal story take place at the beginning of the season. He and his wife lost their daughter after she was born 14 weeks premature. In his abbreviated time at Memphis, Walters was striking out more than a batter an inning exhibiting excellent control.

The concern with Walters, as it has been from day one, is the get-me-over fastball velocity. His fastball averaged 88.8 mph in 2009 and he failed to touch 90 mph in the 4 innings of work yesterday. Comically, Gameday classified a significant number of fastballs as changeups in addition to the mid-70s changeup that Walters has become known for while in the minor league system. While it's not impossible for Walters to be effective at that velocity, the attrition rate for pitchers with that kind of velocity is high. The attrition rate for that kind of pitcher who is also right handed is even higher.

Prior to the Little Red Riding Peej appearance, Kyle Lohse got hit hard for 6 runs in 3.1 innings. It turns out that Lohse has been experiencing the same feeling of forearm discomfort that landed him on the DL last year.  The ongoing debate about whether Lohse's peripheral pitching indicators (FIP, tERA) might be more indicative of his actual performance to date than his ERA or simply his game by game results seems moot at this point. For the sake of my (and expect others) sanity, Lohse has a positive WPA in exactly 2 of 9 starts this season. (While I share many of the same reservations regarding WPA as danup does, I thoroughly enjoy abusing it when it suits my preconceptions, as it does in this instance.)

So with Lohse likely headed for the shelf -- and I know I expect a period of ill-fated rehab to take place before any surgical cutting ensues -- the Cardinals will again dip into the minors to supplement what was, for the first quarter of the season, a simply dominant starting rotation. On the positive side, we still have Chris Carpenter, Adam Wainwright and Jaime Garcia to be dominant in the short term. This all leaves me with some uneasy future trepidation towards Garcia's workload but let's live in the present trepidation for the moment.

Adam Ottavino seems likely to be the next callup from the minors.  Ottavino's command has been impeccable in Memphis with just 7 walks in 36 innings. Even more encouraging has been the continued ability to strike out batters with nearly a K an inning. Ottavino's command was traditionally the item holding him back. The stuff, a low 90s fastball that he can dial up to 94/95 combined with an excellent slider are both quality major league pitches. He's fiddled with third pitches periodically but whatever he comes up to the big leagues throwing is going to be a show-me pitch at best.

I'm disinclined to call Ottavino a finished product at this point. Even with the steps forward this season -- and they're significant -- he still has a tendency to elevate his fastball too often and the lack of a third pitch could be an inhibitor the second or third look batters get at him.  It's unrealistic to expect Ottavino to be the next Garcia. Ottavino's repertoire has always been more specialized and has led some to believe his eventual place is the pen. Ottavino still has the kind of arm that can make scouts take notice and with a little more coaching, it's possible he could grow into something more.

The one small blessing in this situation is an off day on Monday.

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The offense has shown some small signs of life over the last two days (Matt Holliday hit a freaking homerun, people) which is encouraging. This would become doubly important as our rotation finds it's collective and metaphorical body of work falling apart and additional stress is placed on the bullpen. In my dreams of running the team (which alternate with my nightmares about a shorter Stavinoha being in our farm system), there's one other callup I would make. 

Blake Hawksworth is also dealing with an injury - note the article's picture with hung head that is indicative of an injured pitcher - and the bullpen is likely to get real thin real quick.  Rather than letting Hawk valiantly battle through this, I'd give him some retroactive DL time to get better.  I'd also call up Fernando Salas and his 17-to-3 K:BB ratio. It's unlikely to happen but I think it would be in the best interest of a team that seems short on effective, healthy pitchers at the moment.