It is nice to watch live baseball again, but since the season has only lasted for three days so far, it is difficult to analyze anything due to small sample sizes. However, one thing that is becoming clear is who Mike Shildt’s preferred options are in the bullpen. On Friday, Jack Flaherty tossed seven strong innings and left the game with a 3-2 lead. Shildt then called for Ryan Helsley to enter the game in the eighth inning. This provided Cardinals fans a first look at who may be considered the high leverage situation pitcher and set up man before Kwang-Hyun Kim. With Carlos Martinez moving to the rotation, Jordan Hicks injured and sitting out the season, and Giovanny Gallegos not yet on the roster, Ryan Helsley may be the preferred pitcher in the eighth inning or high leverage situations.
In his first opportunity, Helsley breezed through the eighth inning and then handed the ball to Kim who struggled, but ended the game after a slick double play began by Kolten Wong. The last three innings of this game revealed a lot aobut how Mike Shildt seems to be willing to operate. The Cardinals manager probably left Jack Flaherty in the game too long, especially when he was dealing with the bases loaded and one out in the seventh. However, Flaherty is the ace of the staff and Shildt seems willing to trust him to work himself out of trouble, even late in the game. It seems that this level of trust is saved for Flaherty alone, however, as Shildt had Austin Gomber warming in the ‘pen when Adam Wainwright got into trouble in the second inning of Saturday’s game. Flaherty has certainly earned the trust that Shildt has given him, but there is a fine line between trusting a pitcher and leaving him in too long and Shildt will need to manage that carefully.
On Saturday, John Gant entered the game for Wainwright to begin the 7th inning with a 3-1 lead. This could also reveal his status as one of the top non-closing relievers in the Cardinals ‘pen. Clearly Shildt still trusts him to perform despite his struggles in the second half of the season last year (6.65 ERA). However, if Gant can pitch like he did in the first half of last season (2.22 ERA), then he could be a very effective reliever this year. Gant also collected five outs, not just three, and he could be someone that is allowed to throw more than one inning consistently. The last four outs of the game went to Tyler Webb and Daniel Ponce de Leon but they were far from high leverage innings as the Cardinals had already increased their lead to six runs.
There are plenty of relievers who have yet to throw, such as Andrew Miller and Kodi Whitley. However, after the first two games, it appears that Ryan Helsley and John Gant are Mike Shildt’s favored bullpen options and are, perhaps, the most likely to receive high leverage innings. It will be interesting to see if any other releiver can put together a solid stretch of games and join that duo as the top options in the ‘pen. Also, it appears that Jack Flaherty will be given a long leash on the mound and will be given the chance to work himself out of trouble, even later in the game.