Opening Day St. Louis Cardinals Left-Handers

Rick Ankiel

Reviewing deployment of left-handed pitchers by the St. Louis Cardinals on opening day rosters since 2000. Home-grown products are especially few and far between.

Two of the three candidates for the final spot in the 2010 St. Louis Cardinals season-opening rotation are left-handed, veteran Rich Hill and 23-year-old Jaime Garcia. The other combatant is right-hander Kyle McClellan, battle-tested after two years in the Cardinals bullpen.

An article in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch on Wednesday declared Garcia the expected victor, characterizing the scheduled appearances that afternoon by Hill and McClellan against Baltimore as "little more than a formality."

A post-game report from the Globe-Democrat painted a different picture. Manager Tony La Russa was quoted as saying that Hill, McClellan and Garcia are all still battling for the rotation spot and that no decision has been made.

Even if an announcement is not immediately forthcoming, there is no doubt the concept of deploying a left-handed starter would be a welcome one to most managers. The option offers a statistical advantage against clubs with good left-handed hitters.

Of course, a team's farm system must either supply those lefties or the organization must trade for them.

Other left-handed starters

If he does make the opening day rotation, Garcia would become the youngest left-handed starting pitcher to start the season since Rick Ankiel did it in 2000 at the age of 20. In fact, over the previous ten years, Ankiel was the only Cardinals home-grown lefty to accomplish this – in both 2000 and 2001.

The troubled pitcher-turned-outfielder's up-and-down story since has been well-documented. In his first season away from the St. Louis organization since having been drafted in 1997, Ankiel is now is the starting centerfielder for the Kansas City Royals.

The most recent left-handed starter in the Cardinals opening day rotation was acquired in the most regrettable trade of the overall-successful Walt Jocketty era.

Left-hander Mark Mulder joined the Cardinals from the Oakland A's prior to the 2005 season. Among the three players given up for the two-time All-Star and American League starter in the 2004 game was future mound standout Dan Haren.

Like Ankiel, Mulder opened in the Cardinals rotation for two consecutive seasons, in this case, 2005 and 2006. The other six years, 2002-04 and 2007-09, St. Louis began the season with a full complement of five right-handed starting pitchers.

Despite ongoing shoulder problems, Mulder has considered mounting a comeback several times, as recently as this spring. Though not officially retired, it seems unlikely the 32-year-old will ever return to the majors. He has appeared in just six games since 2006 and none since mid-2008.

The third pen lefty

The possibility also remains, though likely remote, that Garcia could start the season in the Cardinals bullpen. There he might serve as a long man with incumbents Trever Miller and Dennys Reyes.

It would be most unusual. Tony La Russa's clubs opened with two left-handers in the bullpen in eight of the last ten seasons. Neither exception turned out particularly well, as the final additions were running on fumes.

Further, the pen lefties have almost exclusively been sourced from the outside. In the last ten years, only one of the 22 opening day left-handed reliever spots was filled by a Cardinals-drafted and developed player. That was Tyler Johnson in 2007. If a reliever to open 2010, Garcia would be the second of 25.

The first of the pair of three-lefty-opening seasons was in 2001, when non-roster invitee (NRI) Jeff Tabaka cracked the initial 25-man roster, joining Steve Kline and Mike Mathews. The then-37-year-old Tabaka pitched on opening day, but was immediately injured, then dispatched to Memphis, not to return until September.

Tabaka's most infamous game was his last as a Cardinal and as a major leaguer. On October 5, 2001, in relief of Woody Williams in a 1-0 game at Busch Stadium, Tabaka yielded a home run to Houston's Lance Berkman, the only batter he faced in the eighth inning. The blown save was a crushing blow to the Cardinals' title hopes. The two clubs finished with identical records, but Houston took the division on a tie-breaker. Both NL Central clubs lost in the League Division Series.

Four years later, Bill Pulsipher, former member of the famed Mets "Generation K" with ex-closer Jason Isringhausen and Paul Wilson, made the 2005 Cardinals out of spring training, also as an NRI. Injured in the final days of camp, "Pulse" lasted in the majors for just one month before being outrighted off the Cardinals' 40-man roster in early May.

In between stints with the Long Island Ducks of the Independent Atlantic League, that season Pulsipher tied the Memphis Redbirds one-game strikeout record with 15. He went 6-7 with a 4.49 ERA in 25 appearances including 18 starts for Memphis in 2005.

Pulsipher, now 36, continues as a baseball vagabond to this day. He is a regular in Caribbean winter ball, the Mexican League and various independent leagues.

Update (Thursday, 3/25): The Yuma Scorpions of the independent Golden League just announced the signing of Pulsipher for the 2010 season.

Just as with Mulder and Tabaka, Pulsipher's final major league appearance was with the Cardinals. While that could be the case for Hill perhaps, Garcia looks to have a long and promising future ahead of him. The only questions remain "how?" and "when?"

Cardinals left-handed pitching opening day roster history, 2000-2009

Opening roster LH rotation LH relief
2009 none Trever Miller
Dennys Reyes
2008 none Randy Flores
Ron Villone (NRI)
2007 none Randy Flores
Tyler Johnson
2006 Mark Mulder Randy Flores
Ricardo Rincon
2005 Mark Mulder Randy Flores
Ray King
Bill Pulsipher (NRI)
2004 none Steve Kline
Ray King
2003 none Steve Kline
Lance Painter (NRI)
2002 none Steve Kline
Mike Matthews
2001 Rick Ankiel Steve Kline
Mike Matthews
Jeff Tabaka (NRI)
2000 Rick Ankiel Mike Mohler
Jesse Orosco





Brian Walton can be reached via email at brian@thecardinalnationblog.com. Also catch his Cardinals commentary daily at The Cardinal Nation blog. Follow Brian on Twitter.

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