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Stretching Out Jake Woodford Is a Smart, but Late, Decision

MLB: JUN 27 Pirates at Cardinals

The St. Louis Cardinals won a game yesterday. They also got a solid start from Wade LeBlanc. This is an important step for the Redbirds, as LeBlanc was at least able to limit the Diamondbacks to one run and just one walk. He is likely not going to be better than a fill-in starter, but at this point that can help the Cardinals. If he can keep throwing strikes and limit home runs, he will help the team significantly.

For as positive as last night’s win was, the ball now goes to Carlos Martinez tonight. One has to believe that he is on a short leash, and that this may be his final start in the rotation. The problem is that the Cardinals need a replacement for him and they may not have one ready in time for Martinez’ next scheduled start.

The organization seemingly acknowledged its lack of MLB-ready starting pitching in Memphis by demoting Jake Woodford on Monday with the goal of building him up as a starter. There are two problems with this move. The first is that Jake Woodford has a 6.54 FIP, the second is that it is happening too late.

Jake Woodford’s struggles in the bullpen make it unlikely that he will be able to be an effective starter. He has simply walked too many batters and given up too many home runs this season. As a result, a demotion is necessary for him to work on these issues.

Despite this, preparing Woodford for a starting role is a necessary move, and that is why it has happened too late. The Cardinals clearly do not have any pitchers in Triple-A who are ready to enter the big league rotation. Matthew Liberatore is a promising prospect but he is still just 21 years old and has pitched just seven games above Single-A. Angel Rondon is struggling at Memphis (5.49 FIP), Connor Thomas also has thrown just seven games above Single-A, and Tommy Parsons and Zack Thompson are both inexperienced and struggling at Memphis.

As a result, it would be detrimental to the development of these players if any one of them was forced to enter the big league rotation. Johan Oviedo is already trying to develop at the big league level and it is not ideal. The Cardinals should avoid making anyone else do the same.

This is why Jake Woodford should be prepared to take Martinez’ spot in the rotation. He may be struggling, but he has over 200 innings of Triple-A starting experience and nearly 50 innings of MLB experience. It is better for Woodford to take his lumps in the rotation than it is to force any of the Memphis starters to the majors before they are ready.

It takes time for a reliever to stretch his arm out, though, and that is why this move should have happened earlier. It is highly unlikely that he will be ready to take the ball for Martinez’ next scheduled start. If he had been sent to Memphis earlier, then he may have been ready in time. He also would have been given more time to work on his problems and potentially make some improvement before entering the rotation in St. Louis.

This late demotion means that the Cardinals will be forced to keep Martinez in the rotation for longer, or find another way to cover his starts until Woodford is ready. The lack of rotation depth has been obvious for a while, and Woodford could have been sent down earlier.

Regardless of the tardiness of the move, stretching out Woodford is the best move to fill Martinez’ spot. It is better to have Woodford in the rotation than an inexperienced prospect who would be better served developing in the minor leagues. The Cardinals will have to hope that Woodford makes some improvements, and they will have to keep him on a short leash in the rotation in order to minimize the damage that he can allow.

He may not give the Cardinals high-quality innings, but he will allow better prospects to keep developing. This is a positive. If the Cardinals start winning, then perhaps they will look to acquire someone who can replace Woodford in the rotation for the rest of the season. However, with the limited in-house options that the Cardinals currently have, this is the best move they could have made. They simply took too long to make it.