Will Wainwright's Return Motivate Izzy?

The St. Louis Cardinals are on their second closer this week, while talking about a third. What might be behind this?

Many in the Cardinal Nation are focused on the status of right-handed pitcher Adam Wainwright, throwing the ball now, and moving toward an August return to game action. He has been on the disabled list with a sprained middle finger since June 9.

In a bit of an unusual move because of his candor, Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak has stated on numerous occasions recently that the organization has not ruled out the possibility of Wainwright assuming the job as the club's closer instead of returning to the rotation.

A Tuesday throwing session where Wainwright will put full emphasis on his bread-and-butter curveball will lead to a meeting of the minds that may clarify the 26-year-old's near-term future, reports the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

One could argue about this pending decision either way.

After all, which of the struggling groups need more help, a starting staff that cannot go deep into games but is getting Chris Carpenter back on Wednesday or an overworked relief corps that leads MLB in games lost by the bullpen (23) and blown saves (25)?

There may not be enough medical kits available to stop all the bleeding.

Yet, what seems to be overlooked at this time is that the Cardinals already have a closer, a new/old one.

On Monday, just yesterday, manager Tony La Russa and pitching coach Dave Duncan removed interim closer Ryan Franklin from the job and re-inserted Jason Isringhausen back into his old role.

My view is that that move was driven by three factors. 1) Franklin's struggles. 2) Izzy's strong desire to return as closer and the organization's respect for him. 3) The need to understand if Izzy is going to work out before having to decide where to use Wainwright.

I am not going to rehash Franklin's recent history, but suffice it to say that he seems unsuited for the role. I covered this in detail last week, when I suggested Russ Springer be tried as closer. Yet, as recently as this past weekend, La Russa showed no inclination to make any change, instead giving Franklin his full vote of confidence.

The combination of another blown save vs. the Mets and especially supposed recent improvement by Izzy apparently led to the change of heart.

FSN Midwest's Al Hrabosky, a former closer for the club himself, noted on Monday's broadcast that Izzy wants his job back in the worst way. La Russa has confirmed the same thing.

What is different now from when he left on a month's stay on the disabled list from mid-May to mid-June, was then Izzy wanted out, saying he was pitching "like a kindergartner".

The club's career saves leader is eight short of 300 in his career and given what Izzy has done in the past for the Cardinals, he should get another chance. I didn't think his results dictate it should be now, however.

While Izzy has had two one-inning hitless, shutout outings against the Mets this past weekend, he had allowed six runs over his last four appearances prior to that. His July ERA is an uncloser-like 6.23.

When Wainwright took over for Izzy in September, 2006, it was similar, but also very different. Isringhausen's season-ending hip injury was the reason for change followed by then-back up closer Braden Looper's ineffectiveness. Though Franklin plays Looper's role in 2008, Izzy isn't hurt now, at least physically.

Yet, there is a good reason to "rush" Isringhausen back. It is all about respect – and timing. And much more than 300 saves.

The same reason La Russa would not express any concern about Franklin's performance until after he dropped the axe is why I think Izzy is closing now.

It would seem unlikely the loyal manager La Russa would crush the veteran Izzy's desire to get his job back by being party to instead awarding it to Wainwright out of hand.

Rather, this way, Izzy gets a chance to prove again whether or not he can handle the closer's duties while Wainwright starts and finishes his upcoming rehab assignment, again facing live hitters in the process.

Perhaps La Russa and Duncan can be the "good cops", supporting Isringhausen, while if necessary, labeling Mozeliak as the "bad cop" for even suggesting Wainwright might be required.

Who knows? The impending threat might motivate the 35-year-old.

If Izzy succeeds, the Cardinals have the best of all worlds - an experienced, effective closer and another proven starter in Wainwright to help shore up their eroding rotation.

Instead, if Izzy stumbles again, the Cardinals will then have a clear and defensible reason to bring in Wainwright for the ninth – learning this probably about the time Wainwright is ready to return to a major league mound.

This should all become clear over the next few weeks. It seems the ball has been placed in Izzy's hand, at least until Wainwright is ready to take it.

Brian Walton can be reached via email at brwalton@earthlink.net

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