ST. LOUIS, MO - MARCH 31: Ryan Franklin #31 of the St. Louis Cardinals reacts to giving up a home run against the San Diego Padres on opening day at Busch Stadium on March 31, 2011 in St. Louis, Missouri. (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)
Ryan Franklin's recent struggles have a) inspired this wonderful post from Viva El Birdos, and b) led to calls for Franklin's exile to the Mediterranean island of Elba. Or at the very least, a demotion from closer to less dramatic duties.
Bernie Miklasz goes into great depth with the gory details. Here's just a taste:
Four blown saves in five opportunities. An 11.57 ERA. Eight hits, two walks and three homers in 4 2/3 innings. And hitters have a .364 batting average against Franklin. It's ugly.
The latest bomb dropped Sunday at Dodger Stadium, when Matt Kemp whacked a Franklin sinker halfway to Pasadena for the winning two-run homer in the ninth. The Dodgers won 2-1. For the fourth time in this young season, the Cardinals lost a game after taking a one-run lead into the ninth.
Boggs has pitched well this season, with 12 strikeouts and three walks in nine innings. He wasn't nearly as good last season, the first in which he was used exclusively as a reliever. Career-wise, Boggs has a 3.64 relief ERA, with a strikeout-to-walk ratio just shy of 2-to-1. He does throw in the mid-90s, and as a reliever he's basically a two-pitch pitcher, just the fastball and slider. He probably wouldn't thrive as a closer, but adequacy seems within his reach.
Motte throws even harder than Boggs, but has never regained La Russa's confidence after giving up four runs on Opening Day two years ago. He pitched well in a setup role last season, but is off to a rough start this spring.
Meanwhile, Sanchez is the most intriguing of the bunch. The 22-year-old rookie is reportedly capable of throwing just as hard as Motte, maybe even harder, though he's not been routinely doing that this spring. Hardly imposing at an inch or two shy of six feet tall, Sanchez has thrown only three innings for the Cardinals but has eight strikeouts without a walk. He seems to be the club's Closer of the Future, but after just three innings it's hard to imaging the Future is Now.
Generally speaking, this is a pretty talented quartet. Throw in lefties Trever Miller and Brian Tallett, and La Russa's got six relievers who should be able to protect most leads. They obviously haven't protected enough of them, and that's obviously been Franklin's fault more than any other's.
Is 4-2/3 innings enough to pass judgment, though? Franklin's throwing the same pitches he threw last season, and he's throwing them just as hard. Is he fundamentally a different pitcher than he was? It doesn't seem so. Is his confidence shot? After four blown saves in just a couple of weeks, you could hardly blame him for falling into the Pit of Depression.
Has he, though? That's the manager's job to know. It seems to me that Franklin, if he's healthy, is still one of the Cardinals three or four best relief pitchers. As such, he's going to be pitching important innings, whether the seventh or eighth or ninth. If he's not currently able to handle the ninth, mentally, then by all means find another role for him. But this is one of those spots where I'm going to defer to La Russa and Dave Duncan. If they think Franklin's okay, I think he's okay.