Bullpen Calling: Reinforcements Needed

Bullpen calling to the minor league towns,
Overuse is declared and fatigue has come down,

The ice pack is coming, after pitches zooming in
Meltdown expected, Martinez’s growin’ thin
Starters lack innings, and it’s causing us fear
‘Cause the Bullpen is drowning, for the, the team by the river

Sorry. Maybe I should leave parody lyrics to Mr. C70.

Still, the Cardinals bullpen’s is getting worn out. In the midst of a 17 consecutive game stretch, the schedule has clashed with a relative innings shortage from the starting pitchers. The overwork is catching up.

Over the last 7 games, here is the bullpen’s work load:

While Mike Shildt has done a good job of balancing the work for the most part, we are still seeing some key relievers run into some overuse. Miller has worked 4 of the last 6 games. Gant, 3 of the last 5. And of course, Carlos Martinez has pitched in 5 of the last 7.

Much of this use, especially Martinez and Miller, is because the Cardinals are playing in tight games that require the use of those prolific relievers. Unfortunately, we are seeing the effects, as Martinez labored through another save on Monday night. His last 5 games have seen him take a loss and convert 4 out of 4 save opportunities. However, the saves haven’t come easy. In the last week, he has a 10.80 ERA and has allowed an opponent slash of .400/.500/.560. Very small 5 inning sample, but it’s clear that he is running on fumes. He can still sling velocity, but his command is far from sharp.

But this isn’t a Martinez bashing post, I really think it’s a case where pitching in 7 of the 11 games since the All-Star break has caught up to him.

The closer being gassed just underscores the overall direction that the bullpen is heading, and the team still has 6 more games before they hit a scheduled day off.

While the team has already cycled in some fresh arms — a 1 day, 2 inning stint from Ryan Helsley, replaced by a fresh Tyler Webb — it needs to continue.

And there is a perfect candidate at Memphis.

His name is Junior Fernandez.

Fernandez is a former hot prospect, turned injury prone and disappointing, turned exposed to Rule 5 Draft, turned breakout stud reliever.

Across 3 levels this season, he has a combined 1.33 ERA in 36 games. The bulk of his time was an 18 appearance stay at Springfield where he posted a 1.55 ERA with a 36.5% K% and 9.6% BB%. He moved up to Memphis and continued his success, posting a 0.68 ERA, a 31.4% K%, and 5.6% BB% in his 9 games (13.1 IP) at the AAA level.

As far as being fresh, he did pitch 1 inning on Sunday, but that is his only appearance in the last 4 days.

The biggest issue with Fernandez is getting him on the 40-man roster. However, in the short-term, Jedd Gyorko is 56 days into a IL stint and could be shifted to the 60-day to make room for Fernandez.

Another decision would have to come on Friday, as Mike Mayers will be required to be removed from the 60-Day IL after maxing out his rehab assignment, but with Justin Williams and Drew Robinson still on the roster, there are replaceable candidates. There is also the possibility that a trade clears a roster spot between now and then.

For the 25-man, after throwing 29 pitches Monday, Webb will likely be unavailable or limited for the next few days, so he is an obvious candidate to option out in order to bring Fernandez up. Or, Rangel Ravelo could be sent down, giving the Cardinals 14 pitchers for a few days to help manage innings.

Regardless of how, the Cardinals could use Fernandez for the remainder of this Pirates series in order to give them a fresh option for the 6th and 7th innings. This allows Brebbia, Gant, and Gallegos to pitch in the 8th and 9th, giving Martinez a much needed 3 day break.

The roster maneuvering would be well worth it.

He could be more than a short-term solution, as well.

As the trade deadline approaches, the Cardinals have a clear need for another starting pitcher and a lefthanded reliever. However, they could also use another middle inning/setup type righthander to allow the current cast to spell Martinez more regularly. This pitcher could be acquired via trade, but there are two high-octane options in-house with Ryan Helsley and Junior Fernandez. Either of those righthanders — or both — could bring a major boost to the bullpen for the stretch run.

However, Helsley is currently in the 10-day waiting period, so for the next 3 games, Fernandez would be the high-end option. The Cardinals will have to protect him on the 40-man this offseason, he won’t go unclaimed in the Rule 5 Draft again, so they might as well add him to the 40-man now.

The bullpen desperately needs him.

Thanks for reading.

Stats via Baseball-Reference and FanGraphs. Feature image credit: @Cardinals on Twitter.

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