Cardinals Closer: Time for Plan "C"?

The St. Louis Cardinals have tried Jason Isringhausen and Ryan Franklin as their closer in 2008. With both of them struggling, perhaps Russ Springer deserves a shot.

On May 15 at Busch Stadium against Pittsburgh, then-St. Louis Cardinals closer Jason Isringhausen suffered his third "dirty daily double" in three opportunities – another loss paired with another blown save.

Shortly thereafter, with a total of five defeats and six blown saves in the first month and a half, Izzy went onto the disabled list with a hand injury that enabled him to head to Florida for what would be another month to try to get his edge back.

When Isringhausen took his leave, he passed the closer's baton on to another veteran, 35-year-old Ryan Franklin.

At that point, Franklin had been Izzy's reliable set up man. His ERA was sitting at 1.80 through 21 appearances in 2008. He had a 1-1 record, with two saves, but also a pair of blown saves. Franklin's WHIP, walks plus hits per innings pitched, was solid at 1.19.

In the two-plus months since, Franklin has become increasingly shaky in the closer's role.

Perhaps coming full circle, he collected his own dirty daily double on Thursday night as Milwaukee Brewer Ryan Braun's two-run home run turned a potential Cardinals win into a disheartening four-game series sweep for the visitors from Wisconsin.

In fact, Franklin took two of the four losses in the Brewers series, having yielded a tenth inning three-run homer to Bill Hall that sealed the fate of the first of the four games on Monday evening.

Anyone who saw Franklin's emotional post-game interview Thursday night had to feel for the veteran. It reminded me a bit of one of Izzy's painful, but openly honest interviews back in early May.

Let there be no confusion about the point that Franklin is certainly trying as hard as he can. But, the facts are that the results aren't there on a consistent-enough basis.

Manager Tony La Russa is often praised for knowing when to put players in a position to increase their likelihood of success. In this case, it could be that Franklin is simply miscast in the important ninth-inning role.

As the team's closer, Franklin's ERA and WHIP are 5.46 and 1.75, respectively. Neither number is anywhere near an acceptable level. He is allowing far too many baserunners and is suffering the consequences more and more often.

It should be noted that those numbers have nothing to do with the offensive support, or lack of it, provided by the Cardinals hitters. These are the results for which Franklin is responsible.

As one point of comparison, in his standout 2007 campaign, Izzy's season-long ERA was 2.48 and his WHIP, 1.07. Another data point: Across the entire National League this season, all relievers good and bad alike have posted an aggregate ERA of 3.97 and WHIP of 1.38.

Looking at Franklin's results by month illustrate the slide.

July 9 5 1 2 3 1 9.2 17 9 4 2 8.38 1.97
June 13 4 0 1 6 2 13 18 6 2 5 4.16 1.77
May (cl) 5 2 1 0 3 0 5.1 3 2 1 4 3.38 1.31
As closer 27 11 2 3 12 3 28 38 17 7 11 5.46 1.75
Pre-closer 21 5 1 1 2 2 20 17 4 0 8 1.80 1.19

Franklin's ERA and WHIP have each grown every period since he became closer. Here in July, Franklin's worst month yet, he has allowed runs in over half his outings, five of nine. In four of those games, he was victimized by the most demoralizing hit of all, the long ball.

On Thursday night's FSN Midwest broadcast, former Cardinals closer Al Hrabosky noted that Franklin isn't finishing off his pitches and looks tired. Franklin is on pace for a career-high number of appearances, 75, after coming out of the Cards' pen 69 times last season, his first with the club.

Though Hungo did not come out and suggest it, I will. Perhaps it is time for a change.

If not Franklin, already the Cardinals' Plan "B" closer this season, who else could do the job?

Plan "A" was clearly Izzy, but he doesn't look to be ready to take back his old responsibilities any time soon after a series of shaky outings. July ERA: 8.10 with six runs allowed over his last four appearances.

Second-year man Kelvin Jimenez has pitched well since his most recent recall, but was hammered earlier in 2008. Jimenez lacks the pedigree and experience, though he did close briefly for Triple-A Memphis this season.

Kyle McClellan has been a nice surprise overall, but like Franklin, his ERA has steadily climbed each month all season long. An additional warning sign is the lofty .300 batting average right-handers have amassed against the rookie.

Another youngster, "closer of the future" Chris Perez is back in Memphis working on his secondary pitches and his control.

So, who is left?

"Old Reliable" Russ Springer is who.

The most consistent Cardinals reliever this entire season, with a 1.97 ERA this year and a 2.18 mark last, was called upon to pitch the sixth inning for starter Todd Wellemeyer on Thursday and put up a goose egg on the scoreboard once again.

In fact, in an amazing run, the 39-year-old Springer has allowed just one tally in each of the months of May, June and July. That's just three earned runs in his last 37 appearances for the Cardinals this season.

Sure, Springer is unproven in the ninth-inning role. So is every other pitcher on the Cardinals roster not named Izzy. Specifically, Springer has just eight career saves in a 637-game career that spans all the way back to 1992, with his high water mark of three saves with the 1997 Houston Astros.

Springer is in his 11th major league stop, including his second tour of duty with the Cardinals and is surely near the end of his long career. Yet, perhaps the right-hander has a bit more fuel remaining in the tank.

Unless/until Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak makes a much-needed trade for bullpen reinforcements, is there a better choice available for closer Plan "C" than "Old Reliable"?

I don't think so, but that decision clearly rests with La Russa and pitching coach Dave Duncan.

Brian Walton can be reached via email at

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