If you have read our site fairly closely over the last two and a half weeks, you have subsequently learned that Jaime Garcia may (August 29) or may not (September 17) be broken. While I consider both articles interesting and informative, you do not have to read either one to understand just how bad Garcia was in his last start (heck, he was not very good in his lone relief appearance since then, either) — his September 13th outing against the Chicago Cubs in which he was fortunate to have been charged for only two earned runs over one and two-thirds innings pitched.
With the bases loaded, two outs in top of the second inning, and a National League MVP candidate at the plate, St. Louis Cardinals manager Mike Matheny made a pitching change that, honestly, I never thought I would see happen. In what some people would deem as unfair, over the last five years I have begun to assume that Matheny will leave his starting pitchers in the game for too long, especially if the starting pitcher is a crafty veteran like the 30-year-old Garcia.
And with this assumption in mind, I tweeted that you “don’t get Reyes up in the bullpen if you’re not going to bring him in the game.” Admittedly, a contributing factor to this tweet was the fact that just six days earlier, Alex Reyes warmed up in the bullpen twice before he was finally brought into the game. Well, I must give credit where it is due as Matheny did indeed remove a struggling Garcia from the game at its most crucial point (the Cardinals’ win expectancy had dropped to 26.9%). Of note, this was the first time Garcia was removed from a start before recording six outs.
In came the 22-year-old, flame-throwing Reyes, and he proceeded to strike out Kris Bryant — an outcome I simply do not see happening if the left-handed Garcia had remained on the mound. While Reyes was less than stellar during the rest of his outing (six walks over 4.1 IP), the outcome of the game could have been decided (in the second inning) by one ball put in play by Bryant and Reyes decidedly prevented that from happening by hurling a 97.9 MPH heater up in the zone.
The next decision regarding Reyes and Garcia was who was going to start yesterday’s ever important series finale against the San Francisco Giants. Some have stated that the decision for Reyes was an obvious one (especially in hindsight), but I’d argue that it was much more complicated than that given Garcia’s standing with the club and his ability to throw a gem on any given night, even this season. Either way, Matheny again placed his trust in the 22-year-old, announcing on Friday that Reyes would be taking Garcia’s spot in the rotation for the Sunday game.
By no means did Reyes let his manager or team down. In fact, he twirled arguably the best start of his professional career (minors included), as it was the first time he ever went seven full innings without allowing a run. Sure, it may have come against a Buster Posey-less lineup, but given the circumstances, let’s not even begin to discredit any part of Reyes’ performance.
Again, in hindsight, the decision to start Alex Reyes over Jaime Garcia appears to be obvious, but considering how critical I have been personally about Mike Matheny in the past, I felt obligated to commend him for his last two strategic decisions involving the rookie as each one played a vital role in two very important victories. Wins in April count the same as wins in September, but we cannot change what already happened in April, so it is time to collect as many wins as possible in the September (and October) games that remain.
As our site manager wrote last week, the Cardinals season is not over.
And finally, for your viewing pleasure, I have embedded a slow motion video of an 89-MPH changeup by Reyes versus Ryan Eibner on August 27: