Memphis Redbirds Reliever of the Year: 2008

Right-hander Jason Motte is our Relief Pitcher of the Year for the 2008 Memphis Redbirds of the Triple-A Pacific Coast League.

It has been a long journey for Jason Motte, from his conversion from catching to relief pitching prior to the 2006 season to his ascension to the major leagues this September.

 

In between, the 26-year-old right-hander has earned recognition as our Scout.com Memphis Redbirds Relief Pitcher of the Year for 2008.

 

On a team where seven different players collected saves last season, Motte stood out against some heady competition. He took over the bulk of the closing duties when Kelvin Jimenez was recalled to St. Louis on July 15 and remained in the role even when Jimenez was returned several weeks later. 

 

Motte finished the 2008 Memphis season with a 4-3 record and 3.24 ERA, striking out an amazing 110 and walking just 26 in 66 2/3 innings over 62 relief appearances. His nine saves were third-highest on the club after Jimenez (12) and Chris Perez (11). Motte's strikeout total was second on the staff only to starter P.J. Walters (122).

 

Motte collected both the St. Louis Cardinals organization's and our Scout.com Minor League Pitcher of the Month awards for July. That month, he pitched in 13 games for Memphis, during which he was 1-0 with an 0.57 ERA.

 

Motte held his opponents scoreless in 12 of his 13 July appearances. The fireballer struck out 27 of the 59 batters he faced, while allowing just eight hits and three walks. Motte held opponents to a .148 average for the month and over his final five appearances, struck out 15 of 27 batters, allowing just four hits, one walk and no runs.

 

The Cardinals' 2003 19th round (575th overall) pick had been added to the Cardinals' 40-man roster in November, 2007 and after having been called up on September 2, made his MLB debut the second day he was wearing the Cardinals uniform.

 

It was the first of some very impressive September appearances for Motte in St. Louis. Unlike many of the 11 Cardinal rookies in 2008, Motte replicated his Triple-A success in the majors from the very beginning.

 

With his club on the ropes in the seventh inning against the Arizona Diamondbacks on September 3, manager Tony La Russa and pitching coach Dave Duncan called Motte's name. It was the toughest of assignments, as the bases were loaded with two outs as the Cards were trying to protect a eroding one-run lead.

 

Motte blew away Arizona number five hitter Mark Reynolds on four pitches, the last swinging on a 98 MPH 1-2 fastball after having showed him a 97 MPH offering on the previous pitch. Motte then hit 99 on the gun several times in the eighth inning as he collected his second strikeout in his first 1 1/3 MLB innings.

 

Motte's first major league save came in his only opportunity to date, two weeks later. With the Cardinals desperately trying to break a seven-game losing skid on September 18 in Cincinnati, Perez was on the rocks with two outs in the ninth inning. The Cards' lead was down to one, and two were on base. Motte safely retired Reds shortstop Jeff Keppinger on a fly ball to preserve the Cardinals' 5-4 win.

 

In 12 MLB outings covering 11 innings, the 26-year-old retired the first batter an amazing 11 times and stranded nine of eleven inherited runners. Motte picked up four holds, held opposing hitters to a .139 average and amassed 16 strikeouts against only three walks.

 

As his 0.82 MLB ERA attests, Motte has been charged with just one earned run as a major leaguer. That came in his tenth outing. The nine appearances represent the longest career-opening scoreless streak by a Cardinals rookie reliever since Curtis King back in 1997.

 

In his own words

The right-hander can throw the fastball past most hitters, as his 126 strikeouts in 77 2/3 innings across both levels this season attest. Yet for Motte to be a successful major leaguer over the long haul, he will need to master his slider. Last month, I asked Motte about its progress.

 

"I've thrown it and it's getting a lot better. The ones I've thrown, we've tried to get it off the plate, for guys to chase it. The other day, Yadi was like, "Hey, if we go with it, we're going to go with it off the plate. And we may come back fastball.

 

"It's there. It was getting there in Memphis. I've talked with Marty (bullpen coach Mason) and he says I should go out there and trust it and not try to do too much with it," Motte explained.

 

As is the politically-correct thing to say, Motte says he doesn't care what role he is asked to play.

 

"To me, I try not to look at it any different whether it is the sixth inning or fifth inning or ninth inning. You go out there and you have a job to do. You've got to make your pitches. You've got to get your three outs, put up a zero on the board. That is what you have to try to do every time.  It is really the same mentality with me. I've got to go out there and get three outs," he said.

 

In the spring, Motte will certainly be among those in the middle of the mix trying to capture a relief berth on the 2009 Cardinals. He's not planning on a return to Triple-A, but is realistic, too.

 

"I hope I don't have to, but if that is what happens, it happens. That's the way the game is. I may have to go back down and work on stuff, and if I do, I am going to do everything I can to get back up here. My goal is still the same – to get here and stay here," Motte told me.

 

The Birdhouse, stlcardinals.scout.com, congratulates Jason Motte on his selection as Memphis Redbirds Relief Pitcher of the Year for 2008.

 

 

Other top Memphis relief pitching performances

 

Veteran John Wasdin was signed over the winter to provide veteran presence to a younger staff and contributed in both a starter and reliever role. Despite tossing 33 games in relief versus only eight starts, Wasdin logged 110 1/3 innings, third most on the team. His 97 strikeouts were also third and his WHIP of 1.11 was best on the entire staff.

 

Chris Perez came into 2008 with the label of the St. Louis Cardinals "closer of the future" and both realized the future and learned there is more work ahead of him. While with the Redbirds, the 23-year-old picked up a win, three holds and 11 saves in 26 games. Consistently, he fanned 38 in 25 1/3 innings but issued 12 free passes.

 

The interim closer around stints by Perez and Motte, Kelvin Jimenez led the Redbirds in saves with 12 and posted a nice ERA of 2.93. Unlike Perez and Motte, the 27-year-old (turning 28 on Monday), didn't blow anyone away, with 28 strikeouts in 52 1/3 innings but he also didn't beat himself (only 12 walks).

 

Like Motte and Perez, righty Mark Worrell made his MLB debut this season. Though it didn't go well (7.94 ERA in four games), Worrell earned his shot. The 25-year-old led the Memphis staff with a 2.15 ERA in 53 games, held opponents to a .210 average, was equally effective against lefties and righties, and fanned 80 in 58.2 innings pitched.

 

Like Wasdin, lefty Ron Flores was brought in on a minor league contract over the winter. Though he won seven games, Flores allowed too many baserunners (1.64 WHIP) and was never seriously considered for a call-up to St. Louis despite all their troubles from the left side in 2008.

 

The unsung member of the 2008 Redbirds pen is righty Matt Scherer.  Promoted from Springfield in late April, the 25-year-old worked in relative anonymity, making 40 appearances with a 3.93 ERA, collecting three holds and 13 game finishes.

 

 

Master article with all 2008 Scout.com Cardinals Minor League Players of the Year and the schedule for daily announcements: link. (This link is also permanently located at the lower left of The Birdhouse home page.)

 

 

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

 

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