Cardinal starting pitcher Joel Pineiro gave the team a much needed seven inning start last night against the Dodgers. Pineiro wasn’t particularly sharp early, surrendering three runs in the first three innings, but the big Cardinal fourth inning – puntuated by back-to-back home runs by Albert Pujols and Ryan Ludwick (is there an internal MVP race heating up?) – seemed to settle Pineiro down. He pitched well from the third on, allowing another run in the seventh before being pinch-hit for in the bottom of the seventh.
It led me to wonder (because my memory is apparently that short) how often Pineiro had gone seven this season, if at all. He has been so pedestrian of late, I found it hard to recall. Much to my surprise, tonight was his sixth seven inning start in nineteen total games started. One was a mercy killing, with LaRussa allowing him to take a beating from the Royals in order to rest a weary bullpen. In each of the other four previous starts, Pineiro allowed two runs or fewer. His ERA in those 35 2/3 innings of work? 2.78. Heck, if you take away the start where he probably should’ve been pulled, the ERA number drops to a miserly 1.29 over four starts. He only got two wins out of those four, but that’s another story that we’ve all heard too many times.
Now, obviously it stands to reason that if he is in the game that long, he is probably pitching well, but we’ve seen plenty of pitchers try to go deep only to take a beating late in the start. The difference is, that the Pineiro we’ve seen of late is not even giving his team a chance to win. The 7 2/3 he pitched when giving up the seven earned runs versus KC was the last time he’d gone seven, on June 27th. Since then, in his last six starts, he has one start in which he pitched 6 1/3 scoreless against the Phillies, but gave up at least three in his other five starts. His four most recent starts, not including tonight, he hadn’t gone longer than six innings, he surrendered ten hits in each, and compiled an 8.31 ERA. Not exactly the stuff that I think the Cardinals were expecting when they gave him a two-year deal this past off-season.
Pineiro has previously stated his distaste for coming out of the bullpen, so is it possible that he’s going to actually bear down and concentrate? Try to be a solid guy at the back end of the rotation?
Let’s think about the Cardinal rotation for a minute. Carp has almost locked his spot down as the returning ace. Kyle Lohse is clearly entrenched in his spot. I’m still convinced that the Cardinals will do the right thing and return Waino to the rotation instead of bowing to pressure and making him the closer, despite reports to the contrary. Chris Perez should be in that role until he does something Jason Isringhausen-like. Todd Wellemeyer did well last time out, and could hopefully be over his elbow/arm fatigue issues for the stretch run (wouldn’t we all love to see another May out of Welley?).
That leaves one spot for two guys, Pineiro and Braden Looper. Looper has stepped up his game with back-to-back seven inning starts. Could we be seeing some old-fashioned, good-natured competition here between Joel and Braden?
The rotation sets up for Looper to start in Chicago against the Cubs and Pineiro in Florida against the Marlins, both crucial games if the Cardinals are to remain relevant in the Central Division and NL Wild Card races. Is it possible that as these guys battle each other to retain their respective rotation spots, they could drive each other to help this team win some really big games in the next two weeks?
Only the Cardinals win in that scenario… (as long as it doesn’t make them feel like Wainwright is expendable from the rotation).