Fresh off of a two-inning, one hit, no runs performance yesterday afternoon, Jason Isringhausen is hopefully feeling a little better about himself.
I hope that Tony doesn’t feel the same. Sure, Izzy finally put together some pitches, even throwing most for strikes. This does not in the slightest form mean that he should be allowed back near the closer’s role. LaRussa has maintained that he will employ a closer-by-committee approach, but that committee should not in the near future (or perhaps ever again) include Isringhausen.
Yesterday’s outing for Izzy was a good sign, nothing more, nothing less. It came with the Cards already facing a 4-1 deficit, the Cardinal offense rendered inept by Dodgers rookie Clayton Kershaw. Kyle Lohse pitched admirably in taking his fourth loss of the season, and giving further rest to this bullpen by logging another seven inning start.
Isringhausen threw twenty-five pitches in his two innings of work yesterday, with and astonishing twenty of them for strikes, even striking out three. This is a huge step in the right direction. Izzy seemed more relaxed out there (no doubt aided by the “no pressure” situation, knowing he couldn’t take the loss) and more confident in his pitches.
I believe that if he really refocuses, lets go of the prospect of returning to closer this season, lets go of the 300 save plateau that, at this point, seems just out of reach – he can still be a contributor for this ‘pen. Think of him in the seventh or eighth inning, with a little less pressure than the closer role, and Ryan Franklin opposite him in the other inning. Folks have quickly forgotten how effective Franklin was in the setup role before Isringhausen went on the DL and he was thrust into the closer role. At this point, it seems safe to say that Izzy and Franklin will be with this team for the duration, so rabid haters can bag their “DFA them” routine. If Izzy can build on yesterday’s outing, I would love to see him get the ball in the seventh or eighth. Sprinkle in some Kyle McClellan and Russ Springer and those two innings could, dare I say, turn into positives for this club.
Think about it this way. The starting rotation is beginning to pick up its game – Braden Looper is going for his third straight seven inning start today in Chicago. Lohse has been routinely going seven. Joel Pineiro went seven on Wednesday, perhaps feeling the pressure of the return of the Cards’ top two starters, Chris Carpenter (who looked like he could’ve gone nine Tuesday night, if not for rain) and Adam Wainwright.
Spun the right way, I really do believe that LaRussa can make shine out of spit here. The less work the bullpen has to do in the coming weeks, the more flexibility he has. Izzy comes in and walks the first batter? No worries, yank him for Springer. Ron Villone gets a lefty in the seventh, Jaime Garcia gets one in the eighth. They could even employ a bullpen rotation of sorts (obviously there are a lot more variables than I’m caring to acknowledge here, but…) where Isringhausen gets the seventh one day, and McClellan the next. Springer gets the eighth one day, and Franklin the next.
You’ll notice I have yet to discuss the ninth. Chris Perez has got to be the man. The ninth inning should be his to lose at this point. Now, that being said, the same opinion I issued for Isringhausen earlier applies to Perez here. One outing does not a closer make, but damn was CP63 impressive on Wednesday. He’s got to continue to do it, but if that save didn’t instill confidence in LaRussa and Dave Duncan to use him in that role, the kid is up against it worse than I thought. Isringhausen and Franklin have been offered the chance to fail over and over again this season, so I would hope that the same opportunity would be extended to Perez. Sure, he’s going to struggle at some point – but let him work through it.
I’d love to see this trial by fire be Perez’s audition for the 2009 closer role. Imagine the flexibilty offered to John Mozeliak in the off-season, with arguably a lot of free agent cash to throw around, if he has his closer locked down at the league minimum before spring training even starts. I cherish the thought.
So, with all of this said – I guess you can put me squarely in the glass-half-full camp. I’m still just like any other Cards fan, I cringe when the bullpen comes in with a “less-than-one-swing-lead”. Anything less than five runs, I’m wary. Yet I think there is a real opportunity here for LaRussa to do the right thing. Sticking with Perez in the closer role seems to just set the rest of the bullpen up almost too nicely. We’ve seen what Isringhausen can do with the pressure off – give him some more two or three runs down (or preferably six or seven runs up) situations to get the kinks worked out, then install him in that almost as valuable setup role. Let Franklin throw some earlier innings no runners on to get his head straight, and then let him loose back in what should’ve been his role all season.
This just might work out yet, kids…