How will Oli Marmol manage the launch staff?
The St. Louis Cardinals couldn’t even make it to the first game of spring training without key pitchers getting hurt. Neither Jack Flaherty nor Alex Reyes will be ready for opening day and both will open the season on the IL. Being among the top starters and top relievers at the start of the year is never a good start. The Cardinals have options to fill those gaps, but no starter will duplicate Flaherty’s numbers (unless Matthew Liberatore hits the ground) and Reyes was one of the most often used relievers in the entire league last year. (15th in IP among relievers) .
It can be difficult to replace this production, but Oli Marmol can be creative in his attempt to mitigate these losses. The new manager has already declared his intention to use his best relievers in the biggest moments. I don’t know why it took a Cardinals manager so long to consider the idea, but it’s good to see Marmol ready to take a different approach. It already looks like he will be a breath of fresh air after Matheny and Shildt.
Reyes might have been an option for such a role, but he should have beaten Giovanny Gallegos, who is expected to be the firefighter with input from Genesis Cabrera. Jordan Hicks could also help if he pitches well this year and after impressing last season, it’s possible Kodi Whitley could play a bigger role. Reyes’ injury could benefit Whitley the most by giving him the chance to play a bigger role in the bullpen and build on his success since the end of last season.
The two throwing injuries open up two spots on the roster. One will have to be taken by a starter, so Jake Woodford and Matthew Liberatore should compete for that spot. If the Cardinals aren’t signing any more pitchers to cover injuries, that’s probably a sign they believe in Liberatore to cover a lot of innings this year. I think Woodford has a slight advantage in the final rotation spot, but Liberatore has a strong chance. The Cardinals would probably prefer to give him more Triple-A experience, but if he impresses in the spring, he could start with the team.
Either way, the two spots on the roster should be filled by two pitchers who can start. Marmol said Monday he would prefer to start the season with a traditional five-man rotation instead of a four-man rotation with a fifth-day bullpen/piggyback option. Still, the Cardinals would be smart to keep more than five prone pitchers. Jack Flaherty is already injured, but the rest of the rotation is fragile. The Cardinals will need more than six starters, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see another injury early in the season.
If Liberatore starts the year in Triple-A, Jake Woodford should take the rotation spot and Aaron Brooks could take the bullpen spot. The Cardinals should then keep VerHagen and Brooks stretched in case they need to take over in the rotation, but also to make them piggyback or multi-inning options.
Marmol may prefer a traditional five-man rotation to start the year, but that could change depending on circumstances. He’s already shown he’s willing to challenge traditional notions of closeness, and the Cardinals have a pitching staff that lends itself to piggybacking.
Between Steven Matz, Miles Mikolas and Jake Woodford, the Cardinals have a trio of pitchers who all appear to be candidates on their backs. Steven Matz rarely pitches more than five innings, and even in the best season of his career (2021), he still struggles to come out of command third time. His FIP rose steadily from 3.20 the first time in the order, to 3.41 the second time, to 5.89 against batters the third time. He’s a great pitcher in the first innings of a game, but once the lineup changes twice, he’s no longer an effective option. Miles Mikolas is similar and Jake Woodford is even more extreme. Woodford’s FIP facing the order for the third time last season was 6.86.
It doesn’t look like Marmol is interested in piggybacking, but it’s not impossible that he will use the strategy after the start of the season. If the Cardinals lengthen Brooks, VerHagen and Woodford in the spring, and they should, then the piggyback would allow each of them to retain a multi-inning role and stay stretched in the event of another injury that pushes one of them. them in the rotation. There was a time last year when the Cardinals had to send Woodford to Memphis to stretch him out for the rotation, but layering a pair of pitchers in the rotation’s fifth spot, or even fourth as well, would prevent that from happening. ‘be necessary. . If another starter gets injured, the two overlapping arms could just become two starters and the team could revert to a more traditional rotational roster until they get healthy again.
If Liberatore gets the final job, then piggybacking won’t be an option. The Cardinals will want to see what he can do, and that’s the best approach. If he impresses the team and beats Woodford for Flaherty’s spot, then a traditional rotation makes the most sense.
Let’s be honest. The Cardinals aren’t going to piggyback on their new $44 million starter, or someone who pitched nearly 400 innings in his first two seasons in St. Louis. That may change later if the two struggle to dive deep into games, but the team certainly won’t start the year that way. Woodford is really the only arm that has a reasonable chance of being transplanted. However, it appears the organization wants a traditional rotation, so if the Cardinals think Woodford can’t pitch five or six innings on his own, then Liberatore will make the rotation.
It would be nice to keep Brooks and VerHagen lying down, but a long relief is probably their best bet for that. I don’t think the Cardinals will be piggybacking any time soon this year. Marmol just said it. Still, with the rotation of the team, it makes a lot of sense to give it a try.
An opener could also be an option. Letting a reliever work in the top half of the order before giving way to someone like Matz or Woodford could allow starters to pass through the heart of the order twice and three times at the bottom of the order. It would be a bit safer while allowing pitchers who might struggle with the length to work a little deeper into the game.
Marmol seems willing to go against the grain a bit and work with non-traditional pitching roles. He showed that by wanting a firefighter more than a real closer, so if it becomes clear that the team would work better with starters or openers stacked on the road, I would expect Marmol the is considering. The new manager already sounds different to Shildt, and that’s a good thing. Now he has to show that he is different from Shildt. Better utilization of pitching staff is an easy way for them to differentiate themselves.