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Transaction Analysis 5/23/22: Cards Forced to IL Matz and Carlson and Shuffle the Pen

MLB: 2022 St. Louis Media Day USA TODAY NETWORK

The Cards’ roster churn has been full in effect since promoting Matthew Liberatore and Nolan Gorman. Here’s what the club has done in the last two days:

5/22/22: Optioned LHP Matthew Liberatore to AAA Memphis. Recalled RHP Angel Rondon from AAA Memphis.

5/23/22: Placed LHP Steven Matz on the 15-day IL (left shoulder impingement). Placed OF Dylan Carlson on the 10-day IL (left hamstring strain), retroactive to May 22nd. Optioned RHP Anthony Rondon to AAA Memphis. Placed C Yadier Molina on the Bereavement/Family Medical Emergency List. Recalled RHP Junior Fernandez, LHP Matthew Liberatore, C Ivan Herrera and OF Lars Nootbaar from AAA Memphis.

Matthew Liberatore was up here to make a spot start. He did so on May 21st. Check out 4’s deep dive on that appearance here, if you haven’t yet. The Cliff Notes version is that he showed flashes with his secondary pitches, his overall line could have looked a bit better with better outfield defense, and he had poor command of his fastball. No one figured that the Cards were ready to make a rotation switch at this time, and given that the club had six starters and seven bullpen members at the time of his start, he was optioned the next day. Not as punishment, but to give the club a full complement of relievers.

That final bullpen spot was filled by Angel Rondon. As it turned out, he was pressed into service yesterday in long relief after starter Steven Matz had to leave the game after only his fourth pitch thrown to the Pirates’ first batter. At first, it looked like Matz might have had an issue with his left side, as he ran his arm on it when the training staff came out to look at him. We later learned that Matz had left shoulder stiffness and would await the results of an MRI when the club returned to St. Louis. Manager Oli Marmol actually said that Matz reported having an issue when he warmed up, and he pulled Matz out of the game when he noticed that Matz’s fastball velocity was down about three ticks.

I figured the club would option Rondon today. Rondon had to come into the game unexpectedly and had to warm up on the game mound. Although he walked three guys, he did an admirable job under the circumstances in saving the rest of the bullpen arms, pitching five innings of one-hit ball. Why would the club option him? Having pitched five innings, he would not be available for at least three days. T.J. McFarland had to pitch three innings in relief of Rondon, and he would probably need at least two, maybe three days of rest himself. Both Genesis Cabrera and Giovanny Gallegos pitched for the second game in a row on May 20th. Andre Pallante has been pitching every other day in recent days. Nick Wittgren recently pitched three days in a row. It wasn’t a demotion for Rondon, the club simply needed some fresh arms.

Certain that the club would option Rondon, I discussed in yesterday’s game thread what would happen if Matz had to go on the IL. Long-time reader DaveJ asked me why the club wouldn’t just bring Liberatore right back. In discussing the various rules, I thought that the club would call up two relievers because the rotation spot vacated by Matz wouldn’t come up for a while. But in my own recitation of the rules, I should have immediately realized that DaveJ was right all along. As it turns out, assuming the Cards want Liberatore to take Matz’s rotation spot, the club had to recall Liberatore today. And Junior Fernandez was the only real choice to recall to replace Rondon in the bullpen. Here’s why.

Beginning on May 2nd of this year, all pitchers optioned to the minor leagues have to spend 15 days on option, as opposed to 10 days for position players. None of the group that consists of Jake Walsh, Jake Woodford, Kodi Whitley and Packy Naughton have spent the necessary 15 days on option. The closest is Kodi Whitley, who, having been optioned on May 11th, would be available on May 26th. Now a club can recall a player before the 15 days if there’s an injury or the club has to place another player on the inactive list. If the club had used the Matz IL replacement as grounds to recall one of that group of four relievers, then if there was no subsequent injury, the club could not have recalled Liberatore to make another start before 15 days had elapsed. That’s why Liberatore had to come up now, and why the club had to make sure they utilized Matz’s IL move to bring him up early.

As for the choice of Fernandez, Johan Oviedo, Freddy Pacheco and Junior Fernandez were the only other 40-man roster relievers available for recall. The club must have preferred Oviedo to work out his kinds in the AAA Memphis rotation, because he started yesterday afternoon’s game for that club. Junior Fernandez has major league experience, and Pacheco, while posting a very nice 32.4% strikeout rate so far, is pitching in AA. That’s why Fernandez was chosen. Yes, he had a 6.35 ERA, but he’s running a .412 BABIP allowed, and his K/BB ratio is fine. And it wasn’t about performance, it was about who was available.

As it turned out, the Cards had two make two more inactive moves. Dylan Carlson strained his hamstring Saturday night in the field. Lars Nootbaar, the only other 40-man roster outfielder, comes up to replace him. Nootbaar was on the Cards’ opening day roster, but was optioned on April 25th to get him some more reps. Noot clubbed three homers yesterday for Memphis, which boosted his line over just 50 trips to the plate to .275/.400/.650. He only had one homer before yesterday, but he has a 16% walk rate.

Yadier Molina was placed on the Bereavement/Family Medical Emergency List. Derrick Goold of the Post-Dispatch reported that Molina’s son injured his arm playing baseball in Puerto Rico and will have surgery tomorrow. Molina must be away from the club for at least three, but not more than seven days. Instead of bringing up Ali Sanchez, who was briefly with the club last season, the Cards decided to recall prospect catcher Ivan Herrera. Until I checked, I didn’t realize that Sanchez and Herrera have basically split the catching time at Memphis. Out of 42 games, Herrera has started 19, Sanchez has started 18, and each have a start at DH. Clint Coulter started the other five games. Sanchez hasn’t hit, slashing only .221/.303/.309, and that’s with a .304 BABIP. Herrera, on the other hand, has a .310/.405/.493 line. He’s gotten BABIP lucky with a .392 mark, but he’s walking more and striking out less than Sanchez. Interestingly, Herrera has thrown out only 17% of runners trying to steal, while Sanchez has caught 35%. That metric can be misleading, because often bases are stolen off of the pitcher, and on any given steal attempt, depending on the circumstances, the catcher might not have a chance. This could be as simple as the club noting that Molina was only going to be gone for a few days, Knizner would get the starts, and the Cards just wanted to give the kid a taste of the big leagues. If Yadi had to go on the IL for an extended period of time, perhaps Sanchez would have gotten the call instead.

There’s one thing I don’t quite understand about the series of moves. Remember I said that the club basically had to recall Fernandez? That would definitely have been the case if the Matz IL move was the only one. Liberatore would have had to take that slot. But the club also put Carlson on the IL and Molina on the Bearevement List. Why couldn’t the club have said: “Liberatore is replacing the injured Matz, Herrera is replacing Molina, Woodford is replacing the injured Carlson, and Nootbaar is replacing the optioned Rondon?” There were at least two IL moves, and the second IL move should have allowed the club to recall one of either Walsh, Woodford, Whitley or Naughton. The answer is, I’m pretty sure the club could have done that, unless the moves were made in a piecemeal fashion. Goold reported that the Molina move was done after the other moves, just before batting practice. The other moves were made this morning. John Mozeliak said in the pre-game interview that Carlson got his MRI last night, so they must have known they were going to send him to the IL this morning. I figure it’s either one of two things. Either they optioned Rondon this morning and recalled Fernandez while waiting to pull the trigger on placing Carlson on the IL, or the club just wanted to see Fernandez for a couple of days so they can recall Woodford or Whitley for a longer stint. I may never know.

Now that Nootbaar is back, we should look forward to a better outfield defense, right? Wrong. Yepez is at DH tonight, and Marmol is starting Corey Dickerson in left with Brendan Donovan in right. Nootbaar has been nursing an ankle injury, having injured it in a game on May 6th, when he tried to jump and rob an opposing player of a homer at the fence. He just returned to action on May 18th. The Cards were in Pittsburgh yesterday, and Memphis was in the Atlanta area. I don’t really understand it, but maybe the Cards wanted to give Noot a travel day.

We don’t know yet how long Matz will be out. Goold reported that for now, he’s been given a shot and will rest for a couple of weeks. If the Robitussin doesn’t work, we may see a whole lot of Liberatore or even Zack Thompson going forward this year.

ROTATION

Wainwright, Mikolas, Hicks, Hudson, Liberatore (L)

BULLPEN

Cabrera (L), Gallegos (R), Fernandez (R), Helsley (R), McFarland (L), Pallante (R), VerHagen (R), Wittgren (R)

BENCH

Herrera, Dickerson/Nootbaar?, Pujols/Donovan?, Gorman/Sosa?