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What is higher on the Cardinals' wish list as the non-waiver Trade Deadline approaches: a starting pitcher or a left-handed reliever?
-- Brandon C., Rantoul, Ill.
With more than a month before the Trade Deadline, it is still too early to quantify which of the two needs is more crucial. But I will say that both the rotation and bullpen are currently on the wish list.
How aggressive the Cardinals are in acquiring another starter will be somewhat dictated by the progress they see in Chris Carpenter and Jaime Garcia over the next few weeks. If the club is confident that both will return to make substantial contributions, perhaps the need for another starter becomes less of a priority.
The bullpen, even with the eventual return of Kyle McClellan, can absolutely be improved. A lefty reliever is a need, as manager Mike Matheny has been limited in left-on-left matchup spots since the release of J.C. Romero. Another experienced right-hander wouldn't be a bad find either. Consider, too, that the Cardinals could stabilize the bullpen by adding a starter and moving Lance Lynn to the 'pen.
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Again, it's still early to assess the trade market, but it appears as if the Cardinals' needs this summer could mirror the areas the club addressed when it executed a trade with the Blue Jays last July.
Joe Kelly and Lynn are in the rotation due to injuries, and both are performing well. Jake Westbrook, Adam Wainwright and Kyle Lohse are also doing well. Is there a possibility that Carpenter finishes the season as the Cardinals' closer?
-- Benjamin W., Springville, Iowa
That seems entirely unlikely. First, Carpenter has to actually get back and stay healthy. His stoppage in throwing this week should serve as a reminder that there is no guarantee Carpenter will pitch this year.
General manager John Mozeliak said last weekend there is no current consideration being given to having Carpenter pitch in relief. While Lynn and Kelly may have provided varying degrees of assistance to the Cardinals' rotation, you can't say that you'd rather have either starting ahead of Carpenter.
Kelly, based on performance and experience, would be the first one pushed out of the rotation for Carpenter, Garcia or anyone the Cardinals might acquire.
There could be a benefit in getting Lynn to the bullpen, too. Lynn will come close to matching his 2011 innings total by the time the All-Star break rolls around, and by moving Lynn to the bullpen in the second half of the season, the Cardinals could better monitor that workload. He could also provide some stability to an unsettled relief corps.
Why is Shelby Miller being hit hard and having a poor season for Triple-A Memphis?
-- Larry H., Springfield, Ill.
Miller was bound to struggle at some point during his climb, and Triple-A has been that point. There's the obvious -- the competition is better. But Miller's game has been exposed in specific areas, too.
He's given up home runs at a rate (16 in 71 innings) that is especially alarming when you consider that Miller allowed just four in 139 2/3 innings in 2011. The home runs, farm director John Vuch recently said, have come both on fastballs and offspeed pitches.
Having confidence in and maintaining command of his breaking pitches remain important for Miller, too. Last season, he began to decrease his reliance on the fastball, which, in the lower levels of the Minors, was basically all Miller needed to succeed. But Miller's confidence in his offspeed pitches continues to be tested. The Cardinals would like to see him utilize his secondary pitches with more regularity.
Miller recently skipped a start to make a mechanical adjustment, and he responded with a five-inning, one-run performance on Wednesday.
Do you think it took a trip to the disabled list for Jon Jay to be fully appreciated? What is the Cardinals' record when Jay bats second? What is the Cardinals' record with and without Jay this year?
-- Stan D., Rock Valley, Iowa
I don't know if Jay was underappreciated internally, but as you mention, I think Jay's recent absence did highlight his worth -- both defensively and offensively. His return to the lineup has also allowed the Cardinals to move Carlos Beltran to the cleanup spot, a move that makes the lineup deeper.
The Cardinals are 19-14 this year when Jay appears in a game. The club is 10-11 when Jay starts and bats second.
What is the current status of McClellan in his rehab?
-- Joey E., Elmore County, Ala.
While with the team last weekend, I was told that McClellan was close to taking the next step with his rehab work. That means moving from resting his right arm to strengthening it by resuming a throwing program. Assuming no setbacks, McClellan should move into this next phase during the upcoming homestand.
That said, McClellan is still several weeks away from being considered a candidate to come off the DL.
What is the status on Lance Berkman?
-- Judy L., Houston, Texas
Since undergoing knee surgery in late May, Berkman has been rehabilitating near his home in Houston. That is about to change, as the Cardinals anticipate having Berkman back in St. Louis beginning on Friday.
The decision to have Berkman continue the rehab process in St. Louis is two-fold. One, it gets him back with the team, which could benefit from his gregarious personality and clubhouse presence. And two, it will allow the Cardinals to keep a closer eye on his progress. Initially, Berkman was expected to miss eight to 10 weeks from the surgery. There is no indication at this time that such timeline has changed.
How much has Carpenter been around the clubhouse since he's been on the DL? There is no doubt Carp brings a lot of intensity to the game. Is this something that has been lacking while he's been gone?
-- Stephen D., St. Louis
Until recently, Carpenter's rehab work had been concentrated in St. Louis. That meant he was around for all home games, but separated from the team when it went on the road. That just changed, though, as Carpenter joined the Cardinals on this most recent nine-day road trip. This allowed his bullpen sessions and batting practice to be monitored by pitching coach Derek Lilliquist and Matheny, among others.
While Carpenter's presence can't be credited with leading the Cardinals to a 6-3 road trip, it did undoubtedly help. He adds personality and intensity to a clubhouse that had become subdued when it lost several key players.
The Cardinals have many top prospects in Double-A and Triple-A. Matt Adams and Miller are likely to see some time in the Majors, but can we expect to see Kolten Wong, Oscar Taveras or Carlos Martinez before 2013?
-- Tanner W., St. Louis
In the case of the latter three, no, they will not be impacting the Major League team this year. Also, I don't think you can assume that you are going to see Miller in 2012. Certainly the expectation was that Miller would be knocking on the big league door midseason. However, he has struggled mightily in Memphis, leaving the Cardinals with little reason to consider him an answer for any need in the rotation.
If Adams is not needed before September, he'll almost certainly be among those called up when rosters expand for the final month. His bat would be an asset off the Cardinals' bench.