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Closer committee working for Cards

Closer committee working for Cards

May 9th, 2011 in News

Cardinals pitcher Eduardo Sanchez celebrates with catcher Yadier Molina after finishing off a game against the Marlins last week at Busch Stadium. It was the second of three saves for Sanchez.

Photo by The Associated Press /News Tribune.

ST. LOUIS (AP) - It's been more than a week since Ryan Franklin pitched and the St. Louis Cardinals seem to be doing fine without their deposed closer.

The 38-year-old Franklin has been idle since May 1 after blowing four of five save opportunities.

General manager John Mozeliak said it's important to get Franklin back into the mix at some point.

"We have to make those opportunities available," Mozeliak said. "If you're in that snake-bitten mode, the only way you can get out of it is pitching."

In the meantime, there appears to be plenty of options for the Cardinals, who open a road series tonight against the Chicago Cubs.

Eduardo Sanchez, a 22-year-old rookie right-hander with no previous major league experience, is 3-for-3 in save chances with a fastball-slider mix that at times has been overpowering. Fernando Salas, who got his feet wet in middle relief last year, also is 3-for-3 after rescuing Sanchez and nailing down the final out with the bases loaded in a 3-1 victory Sunday afternoon over the Milwaukee Brewers.

"I just tried to not get too excited, and make good pitches," the 25-year-old Salas said through an interpreter, left-hander Jaime Garcia.

Two more hard-throwing right-handers who've been around longer, Mitchell Boggs and Jason Motte, also remain possibilities for a bullpen that has seven blown saves.

Mozeliak and manager Tony La Russa will go with the hot hand for now. Maybe for the rest of the year.

"I think given the youth we have in that bullpen, it's something we probably could do," Mozeliak said. "Is it ideal? I don't know, time will tell. Historically, great bullpens are defined by roles."

Franklin was 27-for-29 in save chances last year and an All-Star in 2009. He got his chance when Jason Isringhausen faltered in 2008.

Now he can't seem to avoid trouble. Franklin has allowed a hit in all 10 appearances, and a run in seven of them.

Shaky defense played a big role in Franklin's downfall and hurt him again when he was charged with a loss May 1 at Atlanta. However it happened, La Russa and pitching coach Dave Duncan are trying to ease Franklin back into an effective role.

Franklin warmed up late Sunday, but did not pitch.

"He's got to be contributing, that's the bottom line, if it's in the ninth, eighth, seventh, sixth inning," Mozeliak said. "He needs opportunities."

Sanchez has come up fast, though the Cardinals weren't determined to fast-track him into the majors this year. Sanchez was called up when Bryan Augenstein was sidelined with a groin injury in mid-April, but opened eyes when he struck out five in two innings in his big league debut at Arizona.

When Boggs faltered, Sanchez was ready.

"Through need he got an opportunity here," Mozeliak said. "Now he's going to have to mature and grow at the major league level."

And when Sanchez faltered, Salas pounced, striking out Rickie Weeks in three pitches for the final out Sunday.

Boggs was knocked down the pecking order after a shaky outing April 26 at Houston, and got a loss last week against the Marlins. Motte has been a closer-in-waiting for a while now with a high 90s fastball, but hasn't been consistent to this point.

Right now, the Cardinals seem to prefer Boggs and Motte handle setup duties.

"At some point, you're trying to get guys to define roles," Mozeliak said. "I don't think you can have the luxury of six blown saves or something to just force it all the time. At some point you've just got to go with your gut and allow things to unfold."