Monday Quick Hits

Happy Pi Day, everyone. These are the quick hits for Monday, March 14th, 2011.

Lohse dealing, McClellan lays claim, Garcia struggling.

Kyle Lohse may not be the question mark many expected him to be this season. Lohse has performed much better than I expected so far in Spring Training. Through his first 13 innings thrown, he has allowed just 2 runs and 8 hits over his 3 starts. Seeing as he missed most of last season with injury and hasn’t been effective since 2008, this is really good news for Cardinals fans. Hopefully he will be able to carry on this success into the regular season.

While Tony LaRussa claims that Kyle McClellan has yet to lock up the fifth starter’s role, the general expectation is that he does. McClellan is the best performer out of the realistic contenders for the role, allowing just a single earned run over his 7 innings on the mound. Is LaRussa simply trying to continue to motivate McClellan with the statement? Probably. But count me still among the folk that would prefer McClellan to return to his role in the bullpen as quickly as possible. Hopefully he can prove me wrong.

The question mark was supposed to be Lohse, however it’s more and more looking like it could be Jaime Garcia. In his 9 innings this season, he’s allowed 18 hits and 10 earned runs and is the only Cardinals pitcher to allow multiple home runs. Is it regression, the league catching up to him, or just that he’s not honed in yet? Only Garcia knows and only time will tell. If he regresses to fifth starter status, it hurts the Cardinals who were expecting him to be a solid #2 or #3 pitcher for them this season.

Matt Carpenter, trade bait?

Third base prospect Matt Carpenter has made the most of his chances in Spring Training. With expected opening day third baseman David Freese being eased into games by the organization, Carpenter has gotten a chance to get regular at bats. Then, the other day, Tony LaRussa was downright glowing in his statements about Carpenter and his ability, saying that “He’s going to play in the big leagues. When, I don’t know.”

Many Cardinals fans, including myself, give LaRussa a tough time about his lack of belief in the younger players on the roster and making it extremely difficult on them to get a chance and make the most of it. However, LaRussa’s changing sentiment has me wondering why.

With Freese in St. Louis and Zack Cox on the way, the organization seems to have a small back log at the hot corner. That could mean a potential trade for Carpenter who turned himself into a prospect of note last season when he hit .316 with 12 HR and 53 RBI for Springfield. Considering that the team will most likely consider their top prospect Shelby Miller off limits in trade discussions, that would make Carpenter their best trade piece.

It is almost for certain that he will begin the season in Memphis unless something happens to David Freese considering that Carpenter is not as versatile as the other players he is competing for a bench spot with. But he has certainly made himself a name among Cardinal fans as a potential option at third base with his 13-for-30 with 2 HR spring.

Salas looking strong for bullpen spot.

Fernando Salas spent a lot of last season bouncing between Memphis and St. Louis. Through that he became known to Cardinals fans as he made 27 appearances and posted a 3.52 ERA. So far in March, Salas has thrown 7 scoreless innings and allowed just a single hit. For Cardinals pitchers in Spring Training this year, that is the top performance.

The 25 year old right hander is my personal choice to succeed Ryan Franklin as closer of the St. Louis Cardinals in 2012. In 2008 he was Springfield’s closer and saved 25 games, and in 2010 he spent most of it as Memphis’ closer and saved another 19. So he has experience and success in the closer’s role.

His closest competition would seem to be Bryan Augenstein who has allowed only a single run in his 6 innings this spring and just 2 hits. Augenstein, 24, was a waiver pickup from the Diamondbacks that many people mocked after he debuted last season with a 7.94 ERA in 2 starts and 5 appearances for the Dbacks. He had yet to find success at AA either with a 6.32 ERA over the last two seasons with Reno, the Dbacks AAA affiliate. Seems like it was a solid choice for the Cardinals after all and he could definitely fill the role that Salas played in 2010 as he bounced between Memphis and St. Louis as the team needed another bullpen arm.

Can we trust Lance Berkman in right field?

Call me wary that we signed him originally to play outfield when he hadn’t played regularly since 2004. Then he complained about tenderness in his right elbow after his first spring training game and has been handled with kid gloves as he’s played pretty much only designated hitter.

Having not played the outfield, of course returning there regularly is going to result in some discomfort. The questions are: Would he be playing if it were a regular season game? And how does he handle the potential discomfort during the season?

I believe if it were the regular season he would be playing in the outfield regularly. However, the question of how does he handle that pain or discomfort when he has to play everyday when it comes to batting and throwing out a runner who is trying to advance from first to third on a ball to right field.