It was good to see two scoreless innings from P.J. Walters, who has been excellent lately in Memphis after getting off to the worst start of his career in the high minors. I'm not sure the Cardinals have the luxury of figuring out many guys like this in a given year, but like Brandon Dickson before him Walters and his gimmick screw-change have always seemed like as good a bet as any to go down the Tyler Clippard career path given an extended shot in the bullpen.
I should stop talking about that, though, because it might happen; it might continue, to Memphis's permanent disdain, the Cardinals' apparent designs on removing every last effective pitcher from regular use in the Pacific Coast League. Walters marks the ninth pitcher to spend time in both Memphis and St. Louis this season, and only Mitchell Boggs's brief trip to work on his secondary pitches worked to Memphis's benefit; everything else has been St. Louis swiping players from Memphis, until Adam Ottavino is the only Redbird with more than 60 innings who hasn't yet ridden the shuttle. ("Hey," I'll write, sometime in August; "Adam Ottavino looks like he might make an interesting reliever. I hope the Cardinals stash him in the back of the bullpen for a while while he sorts things out!")
The pilfering starts even earlier, from Memphis's perspective. Back in December the Cardinals foreshadowed their indifference toward the Redbirds' rotation when they allowed Brian Broderick to go to the Washington Nationals in the Rule 5 draft. Broderick had gone 11-2 with a 2.77 ERA in AA Springfield the year before and didn't have the strikeout rate to succeed in the Major Leagues, which made him a great bet for multi-year Memphis stardom and his own bobblehead night.
Instead he spent a month and a half moldering on Washington's 25-man roster before he was finally returned to Memphis; he's only recently been worked into the Redbirds' rotation.
Then, March: The Cardinals decide to go north with Bryan Augenstein, who looked like a potential season-long sixth starter in Memphis, and then don't really do much with him except ruin him for two months and then use his roster spot as an ersatz vacuum to suck up any reasonably useful pitcher within 100 miles of AutoZone Park.
April 13: Cardinals recall Fernando Salas and Eduardo Sanchez. This one might hurt the most, because once the Cardinals recalled Salas and Sanchez it was hard to imagine a scenario in which Memphis ever saw one of them again. A bullpen stacked with right-handed prospects at the start of the year got exactly five shutout innings from its two best pitchers before the Cardinals claimed them for good.
About a week later Adam Reifer, the ranking relief prospect on the roster, blew out his knee; he's done for the season, although if he hadn't been the Redbird would have lost him by June anyway.
May 23: Cardinals option Mitchell Boggs to AAA Memphis. You could, if you squinted, see even this move as a slight to Memphis. The Cardinals finally send them an interesting reliever, after taking all of theirs, and then they refused to come out and say what he was even there for. So for four starts the Redbirds had one of the Cardinals' better pitchers on loan, with the stipulation that he had to screw up the rotation and could not pitch more than, say, five innings.
May 26: Astros claim Blake King from Cardinals. Oh, come on. King's disintegration after a nice season at AA Springfield marks the end of the Redbirds' name-brand bullpen; it's all Rauschenbergers and Ficks and Martes from here.
June 2: Cardinals recall Lance Lynn from AAA Memphis and Maikel Cleto from AA Springfield. Once you've finished strip-mining the Redbirds there's little left to do but to mortgage the rest of their season by pulling one of their most promising prospects forward to get pummeled for a day or two. In addition to losing Lance Lynn the Cardinals' call-up of Cleto left the Redbirds without his most promising immediate replacement.
Then they optioned Lynn back a week later and exercised their take-backsies clause on Mitchell Boggs.
June 16: Cardinals place Eduardo Sanchez on the 15-day disabled list retroactive to June 13. "Look, it's not a big deal, man, but—"
"What? I brought the book back, right? Did you lend me another—"
"No, it's just, maybe don't break the spine next time. It's just—"
"Look, I'm sorry—"
"No, it's just that normally I take really good care of my stuff, and, like, if I hadn't lent it it wouldn't look all ratty like this, and is this coffee? Don't you rest your books at regular intervals?"
"Look, I missed where that became a passive-aggressive metaphor all of a sudden, but I'm sorry."
Late June: Cardinals call up Lance Lynn, Raul Valdes, and Brandon Dickson in the space of a week. The Cardinals tossed the Redbirds Valdes after they decided they were more into Brian Tallet instead and told them to stretch him out in the rotation; he got knocked around for a while until the Redbirds moved him into the bullpen, where he started to look like a great alternative to Brian Tallet!
In the meantime, Lynn and Dickson have made 27 of the Redbirds' 87 starts to date. But at least the Redbirds finally have Bryan Augenstein!
Yesterday: Cardinals call up P.J. Walters, having wrung two innings out of Brandon Dickson. Unless some other team is interested in Augenstein, who was designated for assignment! At this point I wonder if the Cardinals just plan on using the Redbirds' next starter on any given day as their long reliever/pinch-runner. Maybe they can get the Memphis bullpen moved to St. Louis, so that the Redbirds' pitching changes have to made far enough in advance that the bullpen car shaped like a hat can get to Tennessee by gametime.
The good news from all this player movement is that through an improved minor league system the Cardinals have managed to bump their replacement level from minor league leftovers to Major League leftovers—Dickson or Walters might not have any long-term role on the big league club, but for being this far down the depth chart they're remarkably competent pitchers. I don't want to get much farther down the list—for St. Louis's sake, let alone Memphis's—but so far I've liked what I've seen.