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Allen Craig and Blake Hawksworth: No-Doubt Home Runs, Doubtful Rotation Makeup

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I might be wrong here—I haven't yet run this by the number guys—but I'm relatively sure that those four home runs were more than the Cardinals hit across the entirety of May.

Really? Okay, okay—the producer tells me that the Cardinals actually hit 19 home runs in May, but for what it's worth those four home runs bring the July Cardinals to 18. They were already leading the monthly splits in slugging percentage, .428 against April's .421, so if it seems like this team is more exciting to watch than it's been in a while, it's because that's exactly the case. 

Albert Pujols's home run was a classic; for a guy who's often (and justifiably) credited for being more than a conventional power hitter, a lot of the big home runs, from Brad Lidge on down, are balls that he's pulled toward a bullpen in left-field with a malicious uppercut swing. Allen Craig's—something about his profile, .300, 20 home runs, not a lot of walks, made me think of a line drive hitter, a poor man's Matt Holliday, but his home run came on a surprisingly pretty, lofty swing.

I'm excited about Allen Craig because for all his minor league consistency—if there were additional minor league levels after Memphis he could have moved up one a year and hit .300 with 25 home runs and 90 RBI indefinitely—I'm not sure at all what kind of player he'll be in the Major Leagues. Is he a guy who can kind of play third base? Will the power stick, or the average? No idea.

I was not excited about Blake Hawksworth walking the pitcher twice. And that, friends, is a segue. Print it.

Hawksworth has proven, if nothing else, that he can be Jeff Suppan. While Suppan has put up peripherals even worse than he had in Milwaukee—13 strikeouts, 12 walks, and four home runs in 30 innings—Hawksworth has done a decent impression of the old Jeff Suppan, who got just enough off-speed pitches past batters to stay relevant. 

At 92 miles per hour in its last start, Hawksworth's fastball has finally come down off its relief buzz, but it's still fast enough for Major League success. What's been most important to his success hasn't been his fastball but his resurgent changeup, which remains nine to 10 miles per hour slower than his fastball. Yesterday, with his command still off and 10 hits falling in six innings, he got four swinging strikes out of 23 changeups and just one on his fastball. The cutter he's played with is still in progress—Brooks Baseball counted just four of them—and his curveball just isn't very good, but the changeup has gotten better and better as he's worked in the rotation. 

The command, though. That could use some work. Hawksworth's command problems are puzzling because he just doesn't seem like the type; his fastball hits the corners when he's pitching well, he doesn't throw particularly hard or with a lot of movement or out of a goofy motion. And last night he walked Kyle Kendrick, of all people, twice on nine pitches. Eight of his 39 balls went to a pitcher who's hit .119 in his career (but with a .170 OBP!) It doesn't seem structural, and that's why it's frustrating.

Whatever the problem actually is, over his last three starts he's walked 10 against eight strikeouts, which isn't viable even from a long-term fifth starter. For a long-term fifth starter on a team that employs both Blake Hawksworth and Jeff Suppan, of course, it's a little more workable, even if Kyle Lohse somehow seems likely to return to the rotation on time.

If Brad Penny weren't being given the Troy Glaus treatment—when last available for comment about Penny, John Mozeliak laughed a little, made a face, theatrically pulled at his collar and said "eeeeeeeghhhhhhh..."—I'd say this rotation would just about have put to bed the idea that the Cardinals needed to trade for a Jeff Weaver type to fill out its rotation. But with Hawksworth and Suppan still pitching over their peripherals and Jaime Garcia's performance a fair question as he pushes past 100 innings, it's reasonable to wonder whether the Cardinals could use another middling starting pitcher, as an insurance policy and Tony La Russa's much-demanded long reliever if nothing else.