The situation: Top of the eighth, Cardinals lead, 4-1. 8-9-1 spots in the Reds order coming up. Chris Carpenter has thrown 104 pitches, 34 of them in his previous inning, in chich he hit a batter and allowed three hits but escaped with one run.
The decision: TLR and Dave Duncan go for one more inning with their ace.
The outcome: Carpenter pitches a tidy 1-2-3 eighth on eight pitches. Kyle McClellan pitches the ninth in similar fashion to finish off the win.
The analysis: In general, at least in recent years, the Cardinals work to protect their starters — especially early in the year. The seventh was truly a slog for Carpenter, who was saved in a big way when Jay Bruce’s hot shot hit Scott Rolen as Rolen was running from first to second. Even the outs were difficult, with one long at-bat after another.
The factor at play in this case was the bullpen, though that’s not what TLR pointed to after the game. He spoke as though it was all about Carpenter, but with a fully fresh and rested bullpen, it’s just hard to imagine that Carpenter would have pitched the eighth.
In this case, though, Ryan Franklin wasn’t fully available. He was in prefer-not-to-use mode after pitching two innings the night before (a separate question, it must be noted). They likewise preferred to be hands-off with Mitchell Boggs, who had pitched two in a row and five out of seven, and Blake Hawksworth is probably not the choice in a close game in the late innings right now.
So they had McClellan and Jason Motte, and ideally, that was it. Carpenter was a factor, and La Russa essentially said he believed that Carpenter would straighten things back out for the eighth. But I really have to believe that if Franklin and McClellan were both fully available, it would have been a different story.
Moreover, and don’t discount this factor, Carpenter and Adam Wainwright really need to be eating innings for this team right now. With Kyle Lohse and Brad Penny both out, the Cardinals will be hoping to get seven, eight or nine from their two aces every time one of them takes the mound. A push they might not make with a fully healthy rotation, they may well make right now.
The comment: “If this had been our first year with [Carpenter], we probably would have [taken him out]. But once you know, he comes in that dugout and he’s thinking about what was wrong there and he’s not real happy. So he’s going to go out there and fix something. So he gets three outs. Carp, as long as he was physically OK, he’s earned those outs.” — TLR
My verdict: This one made me a little nervous. It seems to me that in June, Carpenter should still be in handle-carefully mode. But riding him through the eighth is an indication of the value they placed on this game. Series-deciding game, ace had pitched seven strong, something of a statement game in some ways.
I’d have gotten Carpenter out, I think, and found someone like Motte or even one of the lefties to face 8-9-1. I think it’s more consistent with what they’ve done thus far, and consistent with a long-term view that sees the starting rotation as the biggest key to this team’s October hopes.
It’s not a travesty by any means, and I see the thought process. But my inclination is still to protect Carpenter at this point in the year, if you can.