Cardinals Fall Back to Rotation Plan B

The Cardinals figure to move World Series relief ace Adam Wainwright into the rotation, along with possibly reliever Braden Looper or Brad Thompson, who also has been a reliever with the Cardinals at the major league level but a starter in the minors. Free agent signee Ryan Franklin, who relieved for Cincinnati and Philadelphia last year, also is a rotation possibility.

The Cardinals entered the offseason with four free agent starters, Jason Marquis, Jeff Suppan, Jeff Weaver & Mark Mulder. Out of the four, only the injured Mark Mulder has resigned with St. Louis, forcing them to look to the bullpen and minors to fill the holes in their rotation.

An official announcement from Seattle is expected today to announce that the Mariners have agreed to a one-year deal with starting pitcher Jeff Weaver.

Now that the departure of Weaver is practically certain, the Cardinals starting rotation for 2007 is shaping up to look like, RHP Chris Carpenter, RHP Adam Wainwright, RHP Kip Wells, RHP Anthony Reyes, and "a player to be named later" (PTBNL) as the only remaining question mark.

The PTBNL is expected to hold a spot in back end of the rotation until LHP Mark Mulder who is recovering from rotator cuff surgery, will be ready to play.

The Cardinals are hoping Mulder will be back by July and will be able to take the ball for at least 20 starts. Gregg Clifton, Mulder's agent says, "He is working on a daily basis on his rehab to return to the mound as soon as possible."

No matter what, with Mulder sidelined and three other starters from last season already gone, Jason Marquis (Cubs), Jeff Suppan (Brewers) and Jeff Weaver (Mariners), the Cardinals will have to find somebody to fill out the rotation.

With the news over the weekend that RHP Jeff Weaver will sign with the Seattle Mariners, the Cardinals are now forced to move to Plan B, with Adam Wainwright moving into the rotation and Ryan Franklin, Braden Looper, Brad Thompson, and Chris Narveson competing for the fifth spot in the rotation.

Three of the Cardinals' starting pitching candidates, RHPs Braden Looper, Ryan Franklin and Adam Wainwright, pitched a total of 196 games without making a start last season.

In spite of all the question marks about the Cardinals rotation, bullpen and who is going to start the season as the club's closer, pitching coach Dave Duncan says, "I feel very good about what we're taking to spring training."

Adam Wainwright perhaps the best pitcher on the staff behind Chris Carpenter is training this winter in preparation to start in 2007.

Wainwright spent the entire 2006 season pitching out of the Cardinals bullpen. He became the Cardinals closer in September when Jason Isringhausen went on the disabled list. In 61 games, Wainwright posted a 3.12 ERA, allowing 64 hits, striking out 72 and walking 22 in 75 innings.

He continued as the Cardinals closer in the post-season where he closed out each of the Cardinals three clinching games. He picked up four saves and was unscorred upon in nine games.

The health of closer Jason Isringhausen may influence the team's decision, as what to do with Wainwright. If necessary Wainwright could move back into the closer's role.

RHP Braden Looper pitched well in 2006 his first year off of shoulder surgery. The Cardinals would rather have him serve as an eighth-inning setup guy for Jason Isringhausen, buy IZZY may not be ready to take the mound at start of the season. Despite a low strikeout rate (4.10 K/9 in 2005 and 5.03 in 2006), Looper is likely going move into the closer role if Adam Wainwright joins the rotation as planned and Izzy isn't ready.

The Cardinals signed free-agent swingman RHP Ryan Franklin to a one-year-deal in January for $1 million. "Ryan's a durable pitcher who can help us in a number of ways," said Cardinals general manager Walt Jocketty. "We'll bring him to camp and see where he is best suited to help our staff."

At the time he was signed, Franklin who has significant experience as a starting pitcher in the majors was expected to pitch out of the bullpen this season. Now he'll become part of Plan B and will be given a chance to earn a spot in the rotation during spring training.

Franklin has compiled a career mark of 41-57 with a 4.35 ERA in 247 games, including 106 games started. He started 30 or more games for the Seattle Mariners from 2003-05 and logged over 200 innings pitched in both 2003 and 2004.

The Cardinals will also take a look at RHP Brad Thompson. After an outstanding rookie season in 2005 when Thompson finished the regular season with a 2.95 ERA, Thompson struggle enough last season to force St. Louis to send him down to Memphis in July. It should be noted that he finished the season very strong after that trip to the minors by posting an ERA of 0.98 in 11 second half appearances. Overall, Thompson posted a 3.34 ERA in 43 appearances for the Cardinals, allowing 58 hits, striking out 32 and walking 20 in 56.2 innings.

Thompson has some experience starting. He made five starts for Triple-A Memphis and one start for St. Louis in 2006. In 2004 Thompson made 15 starts between Double-A Tennessee and Memphis, so he has some experience starting, but it should be noted, he has never pitched more than 100 innings in single season and is probably best suited for the bullpen.

Rookie LHP Chris Narveson battled shoulder injuries in 2006, beginning the season in extended spring training rehabbing after undergoing labrum surgery during the offseason, yet still managed to pitch well at two minor league levels and managed to even make a spot start for St. Louis during the pennant race.

Spending most of the season at Triple-A, Narveson made 15 starts for the Redbirds, going 8-5 with a 2.81 ERA. He allowed 70 hits, struck out 58 and walked 33 in 80 innings. The Cardinals made Narveson a September call-up and he posted a 4.82 ERA, appearing in four games (one start).

Narveson will get a chance to compete for a spot in the St. Louis rotation in spring training. Considered a long shot at best, by most pundits, Cardinals manager Tony La Russa told me before Christmas that Narveson will be given a fair chance to make the club.

So there you have it sports fans, Plan B, coming to a ballpark near you soon.

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