The dream is almost complete. Languishing in the St. Louis Cardinals minor league system as a weak-hitting, but strong-armed catcher, Jason Motte was converted to a relief pitcher prior to the 2006 season.
Now, less than three summers later, the 26-year-old will be joining five other players in a September call-up to the major leagues. In addition to Motte, the Cardinals will be adding infielders Brendan Ryan and Brian Barden, catcher Mark Johnson and reliever Kelvin Jimenez on Tuesday. Left-hander Randy Flores was called up on Monday. All six were on the roster of Triple-A Memphis.
In addition, Chris Carpenter has been activated off the 15-day disabled list on Monday and rehabbing reliever Josh Kinney will be taken off the 60-day DL to join the Cardinals on Tuesday.
Motte is the only one of the eight who will be making his MLB debut this September. The right-hander can throw the fastball past most hitters as his 110 strikeouts in 66 2/3 innings with Memphis this season attest.
Yet, many major league hitters can catch up with any fastball. So for Motte, the key will be the level of effectiveness he demonstrates with his slider. Like with the others, a good showing in September could put him in the mix to compete for a big-league roster spot next March.
Carpenter, 33, is coming back as a relief pitcher for the final month of the season. Returning from “Tommy John” elbow ligament replacement surgery which caused him to miss all of 2007 after opening day, the right-hander was originally targeting a mid-season 2008 return to the rotation.
The timetable, never set in concrete, was adjusted outward multiple times. After three official rehab outings, the last with Memphis on July 25, Carpenter was activated by the Cardinals. In his third MLB start, on August 10, Carp suffered a shoulder strain that was unrelated to the elbow, but put him back on the DL the next day, anyway.
Like Motte, Kinney, 29, is a heartwarming story. Joining the Cardinals organization from independent ball during the 2001 season, Kinney proved to be a valuable set-up man when called up for his big-league debut late in the 2006 World Championship campaign.
Injured in spring training, 2007 and again last summer, Kinney has fought his way back from a pair of elbow surgeries and could provide a welcome boost to the Cardinals relief corps. In three minor league rehab outings, all with Double-A Springfield, Kinney allowed just one hit, walked none and fanned four over three shutout innings and looks ready to go.
Another player on the upswing is Barden. The 27-year-old infielder joined the Cardinals organization in August, 2007 on a waiver claim from the Arizona Diamondbacks. He hit just .235 in 20 games with Memphis and .217 in 13 contests with the Cardinals after being called up one year ago when rosters expanded. Retreads such as Miguel Cairo and Russell Branyan both received more late-season at-bats than did Barden last September.
Required to be on the organization’s 40-man roster when claimed, Barden was removed this spring, seemingly adding another nail to his prospect status coffin. The infielder didn’t believe it though, showing defensive versatility and batting .285 for Memphis. Barden then joined Team USA, helping the club to achieve Bronze medal status in the Beijing Olympic games last month.
Injured to start his second MLB season here in 2008, Ryan joined the Cardinals in late April. The 26-year-old started well with the bat, hitting .302 on the season as recently as June 24. But, he wilted in the heat of July, going just 6-for-46 (.130) for the month.
When veteran Felipe Lopez was cut loose by Washington and signed by the Cardinals, Ryan was returned to Memphis on August 6. There, he continued to scuffle with the bat, hitting just .237 with a .280 on-base percentage in 76 at-bats over 20 Triple-A games.
With the addition of Ryan and Barden, the Cardinals are carrying six middle infielders as the two join Cesar Izturis, Adam Kennedy, Aaron Miles and Felipe Lopez. At-bats in September for the call-ups could be scarce, especially as long as the Cardinals remain in contention for the wild card.
The Cardinals usually add a third catcher in September and this year is no exception. Providing injury insurance in Memphis but not needed in St. Louis all summer long was the MLB veteran Johnson.
The 32-year-old has over 900 career major league at-bats, but is making his first return to the bigs since 2004. With Memphis this season, the left-handed hitter batted .258 with a nice .368 OBP but a toothless .318 SLG.
Flores, 33, signed as a minor league free agent after the 2003 season, is in the second year of a two-year deal signed before last season. The left-hander experienced uncharacteristic control problems in 2008, with 17 walks in 23 2/3 innings.
Flores was diagnosed with an ankle injury late in June and was sent to Memphis for a ten-day rehab stint in July. Following his activation by St. Louis, results were no better than before. To return to Triple-A, Flores had to clear waivers, which he did, before being optioned out at the end of July.
Overall with Memphis, Flores was solid with a 2.45 ERA in 15 outings. In 18 1/3 innings there, he had 14 strikeouts and walked six.
Like Ryan, Jimenez made his MLB debut last season. Though he made the big club out of spring training, the right-hander was optioned out before the middle of April. Instead, a hand injury was discovered and he was placed on the major league DL until mid-June. Jimenez was was back in St. Louis in mid-July, but was returned to Memphis again on August 1.
The 27-year-old suffered from the same malady as Flores in St. Louis, with 11 walks in just 16 big league innings and an ERA of 5.63. Not surprisingly, Jimenez was more effective in Triple-A, where he served a stint as the club’s closer long enough to log 12 saves. His Memphis ERA was 2.92 in 46 games.
Other Memphis Redbirds who had a chance
Starters Mitchell Boggs and Jamie Garcia were passed over for another return to the big club after being up several times each in their rookie seasons. At least in the case of Garcia, sent down just last week, the stated reason was to limit his innings. The lefty’s 2007 season was ended early due to an elbow injury. Reliever Mark Worrell had a rocky four-game MLB debut earlier in the summer, but was solid in Memphis, with a 2.15 ERA and 80 strikeouts in 58 2/3 innings.
Catcher Bryan Anderson has not yet been added to the 40-man roster and his hitting fell off as the season progressed. Received in the Jim Edmonds trade over the winter, third baseman David Freese also has yet to be included on the roster despite hitting .306 with 26 home runs, driving in 91 and a .910 OPS.
More coming on Tuesday
With the Cardinals’ 40-man roster full, three moves will need to be made to accommodate the re-addition of Barden, the movement of Kinney off the 60-day disabled list and the first-time inclusion of Johnson on the roster.
The corresponding transactions will be some combination of removals from the 40-man and injured players being moved to the 60-day DL. Two of the moves and perhaps a third could be through moving players to the 60-day – Chris Duncan, Jason Isringhausen and Brian Barton.
Three players also out for the season, Mark Mulder, Juan Encarnacion and Tyler Johnson, are already on the 60-day DL.
If the Cardinals want to keep open their options to re-activate Barton later this month if he recovers sufficiently from his right oblique strain, they could instead remove a player like Rico Washington. The third baseman was added to the 40-man and 25-man active roster to open the season when Ryan was injured, but has not threatened to return to St. Louis since. Another less-likely possibility could be disappointing Triple-A starter Blake Hawksworth.
Update: A poster on our Message Board reminded me about pitcher Mike Parisi, optioned to Memphis and out for the year. He had been on the Redbirds' 7-day DL. If Parisi can be put on the major league 60-day DL now, that could easily be the third required move on Tuesday.
Brian Walton can be reached via email at email@example.com.
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