Cards' closing woes prompts La Russa to change to committee approach

Updated: August 6, 2008, 7:30 PM ET
Associated Press

ST. LOUIS -- After the bullpen's latest struggles, the St. Louis Cardinals have decided to go to a closer by committee.

Closer Jason Isringhausen, who has a 1-5 record, 6.28 ERA and seven blown saves in 19 chances, remained a member of the bullpen although the role was not clear.

Despite the bullpen woes, the Cardinals were a half game behind the Brewers in the NL wild-card standings entering Wednesday's games.

Hard-throwing right-hander Chris Perez was recalled from Triple-A Memphis and outfielder Nick Stavinoha was sent back to the minors, a move that manager Tony La Russa said had been in the works before Isringhausen allowed three runs in the ninth inning of the Cardinals' 6-4, 11-inning victory over the Dodgers on Tuesday.

La Russa said he thought Isringhausen, who was 32-for-34 last year in saves, can still be valuable in the bullpen.

"Oh yeah, I definitely do," the manager said. "I think he's got a lot he can offer us."

But he conceded Isringhausen's latest outing has shaken the closer, who has 293 career saves.

"I think you've got to be a little bit more careful," La Russa said. "But I think he can get some important assignments."

Ryan Franklin, the setup man turned stand-in closer when Isringhausen was on the disabled list earlier in the season, also has struggled with 14 saves in 21 chances.

"It's not ideal," La Russa said. "It's the reality of the circumstances we're in."

The call up of Perez, beginning his second stint this year, gives the Cardinals 13 pitchers and no closer. They've often gone with that number this year, leaving La Russa with a four-man bench and at times using pitchers as pinch hitters.

"I'm going to look at the guys that are available and piece together whatever the starter leaves to the best of my ability," La Russa said. "There isn't anybody in that bullpen that couldn't pitch the ninth inning, in my opinion."

General manager John Mozeliak said after Tuesday's struggles that he would work with La Russa and pitching coach Dave Duncan about the bullpen.

St. Louis has a major league-high 27 blown saves and 24 losses, more than all except the Padres. The Cardinals' nine extra-inning losses also lead the majors.

Mozeliak said after Tuesday's game, "You can't just keep giving games away like that."

La Russa said starters who fail to go deep into games also are a factor in the bullpen woes. Relievers worked the final six innings on Tuesday, although that was because Chris Carpenter was removed following a rain delay and the Cardinals didn't want to take chances because it was his second start of the year.

The 23-year-old Perez is 1-1 with 11 saves and a 3.20 ERA at Memphis in 26 games. He struck out 16 in 7 2/3 innings over eight outings after being optioned from St. Louis on July 18, using that time to offset his 95 mph fastball with a slider.

After a strong start in mid-May with the Cardinals, Perez had allowed runs in seven of his final 10 appearances. He has been considered as a future closer by the organization.

Perez said he pitched as early as the seventh inning in some games after being sent down to Memphis to allow him to work on the slider under less pressure. He also believed pitching on a more regular schedule helped.

"My slider, that's the first thing that's going to go when you get three or four days off," Perez said. "They told me to throw a lot of sliders and get it back to where it was. It's back."

Notes
Utilityman Felipe Lopez, signed late Tuesday night, was in the lineup batting seventh and playing left field. He started 69 games at second base, seven at shortstop and six at left field for the Nationals before being released last week. ... RHP Matt Clement was given his unconditional release after clearing waivers.


Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press