Coming into the season, the St. Louis Cardinals relievers I had expected to be writing about now aren’t even in the current picture.
Closer Jason Motte required Tommy John surgery. Set up man Mitchell Boggs flamed out and was traded away. Same with primary lefty Marc Rzepczynski. Fernando Salas spent most of the season back down in Memphis.
No, the relief story of the 2013 Cardinals is about the youngsters. Four joined the team during the season and became major contributors.
Seth Maness, 24, arrived from Memphis in late April and ended up being second on the team with 66 appearances. Often called upon in tough spots, Maness delivered. The right-hander induced 16 double plays, first among National League relievers. He ranked third in the National League with 58 inherited runners and second with a 12.1 percent inherited runners scored mark.
Kevin Siegrist did not join the major league club until June 6, a month before his 24th birthday. The left-hander made an immediate impact, posting a team-record 12 scoreless appearances to open a career and 43 in 45 outings overall. Siegrist’s strikeout rate of 11.34 per nine innings was second among Cardinals.
Like Maness and Siegrist, Carlos Martinez and Michael Wacha were both groomed as starters and may end up continuing in that role in the future. However, in 2013, the two were called up periodically to St. Louis, often to relieve, then returned to Memphis to again start.
By season’s end, Martinez had become the highly-successful set up man to Rosenthal, while Wacha slid into the big league rotation. During the post-season, Wacha was the club’s number two starter.
Still, veterans contributed to the pen, as well. Left-hander Randy Choate, signed to a three-year contract before the season, was often called upon to retire the opponent’s top left-handed batter in a crucial late-game spot and usually delivered. The 37-year-old logged a 2.29 ERA over 64 appearances.
That leaves the current closer and the former closer to contend for the crown.
Trevor Rosenthal, 23, began the spring in a starting battle with Shelby Miller and Joe Kelly and ended the regular season as the closer. In between, the hard-thrower led the team with 74 appearances and his 108 strikeouts were the most by a Cardinals reliever since 1978. His 12.9 Ks per nine innings led the club and 29 holds were second in the league.
Yet, early on, Rosenthal was not ready for the ninth-inning job. He blew all five of his save opportunities during the season before logging three straight in the final week of the schedule. He also absorbed four losses, most among Cardinals relievers.
That is not a knock on Rosenthal. Instead, it is a reminder that the Cardinals may not have reached the post-season, not finished in first in their division, not won the most games in the National League without Edward Mujica’s 37 saves.
Pressed into closing duty, the free-agent-to-be converted his initial 21 saves before his first miss, on July 4. By then, the Cards were already 17 games over .500. The 29-year-old made his first National League All-Star Team.
Thought by some to be a contributor to his skid, nine times Mujica pitched more than one inning, including two full innings four times.
Even with his September struggles (two saves, two blown saves) that led to Rosenthal taking over the ninth-inning duties, Mujica saved 37 games in 41 attempts over the course of the season. He walked just five batters all year long and had a 9.2-to-1 strikeout to walk ratio, both best among NL relievers.
Rosenthal and Mujica finished with comparable ERAs at 2.63 to 2.78, while the veteran had a lower WHIP at 1.005 to 1.102 for Rosenthal. Rosenthal had a higher strikeout rate, while Mujica was much stingier with the free pass.
There is no doubt that today, Rosenthal is the Cardinals’ go-to reliever. Mujica may not return to St. Louis next season and even if he does, he won’t be the closer. Yet over the course of the long 2013 regular season, Edward Mujica is a deserving selection as The Cardinal Nation/Scout.com St. Louis Cardinals Relief Pitcher of the Year.
Note: For more information on all The Cardinal Nation minor and major league award winners for 2013, click on this link. You will be taken to an index page with links to all articles about previous winners across the system club by club, schedule for upcoming award announcements as well as 2013 team recaps. Note that many of the detailed articles are subscriber-only.
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Brian Walton can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Also catch his Cardinals commentary daily at The Cardinal Nation blog. Follow Brian on Twitter.
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