Rosenthal returning, but Cards' bullpen has new look
Offseason additions Walden, Belisle could play critical roles
By Jenifer Langosch
This is the sixth of a seven-part Around the Horn series that will take a position-by-position look at the Cardinals' projected starters and backup options heading into next season. Previous installments examined the catchers, corner infielders, middle infielders, outfielders and starting pitchers. Up next: Relievers
ST. LOUIS -- While the Cardinals' winter work could hardly be characterized as a roster overhaul, arguably no facet of the club has as different a look last year to this one as the bullpen. It's also one of the few areas in which there remain several questions heading into Spring Training.
None of them involve the closer role, which belongs again to Trevor Rosenthal. Boasting a 45-save season as a rookie closer, Rosenthal returns as the Cardinals' ninth-inning man, looking mainly to improve in the way he notches those saves. His first-batter efficiency (39 percent reached in 2014) must improve, and his walk rate per nine innings (5.4 in 2014) needs to reduce.
"That's personally a main focus for 2015 is attacking hitters, trying to be more efficient," Rosenthal said. "Obviously, [I'm] trying to keep that pitch count down."
The way in which the Cardinals bridge the gap to the ninth will, however, feature new faces or old faces in new roles.
If the Cardinals move forward with plans to use Carlos Martinez in the rotation, they will have a setup role to fill in the 'pen. The club hopes that Jordan Walden seizes the job. While the lesser-discussed pieces in the November trade that brought in outfielder Jason Heyward, Walden was nevertheless a critical part.
Walden was an All-Star closer with the Angels in 2011 and earned 20 holds while posting a 2.88 ERA pitching out of the Braves' bullpen last year.
Two other right-handers, Matt Belisle and Seth Maness, give the Cardinals sufficient coverage from that side. In two years with the Cardinals, Maness has emerged a ground-ball specialist and one of manager Mike Matheny's more trusted relievers. Belisle joins the Cardinals' bullpen mix after six seasons as a workhorse reliever in Colorado. There, he made 70-plus appearances in four of the last five seasons.
"I just always sign that contract and think to myself, 'OK, from here on out, I'm to do what's asked of me,'" said Belisle, who inked a one-year deal in December. "I'm here to be prepared and do what's asked to win the game that day."
Where the bullpen makeup gets interesting is from the left side, where the Cardinals have a plethora of options, but also nearly as many questions. Veteran Randy Choate returns for a third season as a left-on-left specialist. Marco Gonzales, who shined out of the 'pen last postseason, could get consideration as a lefty setup man should the Cardinals not immediately need him as a starter.
Other questions still needing answered: Will a healthy Kevin Siegrist return to 2013 form? Could Jaime Garcia's best fit, if healthy, be in relief this time? How will being out of options affect the status of Sam Freeman?
Nick Greenwood and Tyler Lyons give the Cardinals additional left-handed depth and the flexibility to be used in long relief.
Other relievers to watch this spring include young power arm Sam Tuivailala, as well as recent non-roster signee, Carlos Villanueva, whose capability to fill a variety of roles could be useful to the Cards.