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Archive for the ‘Pitchers’ Category

In his first major-league start, Bud Norris pitched against the Cardinals with the poise and skill of an established winner.

On Aug. 2, 2009, Norris, appearing in his second big-league game, started for the Astros at St. Louis, held the Cardinals to two hits in seven innings and earned the win.

Nine years later, on Feb. 14, 2018, Norris joined the Cardinals, signing a one-year contract to be a reliever and spot starter after earning 19 saves for the 2017 Angels.

This Bud’s for you

David Norris, nicknamed “Bud” because at age 3 he imitated his father and ordered a beer in a restaurant, was selected by the Astros in the sixth round of the 2006 amateur draft.

After making his major-league debut in relief against the Cubs on July 29, 2009, Norris, 24, got the start four days later at Busch Stadium when Astros ace Roy Oswalt became sidelined with a bad back.

Norris, a right-hander, held the Cardinals hitless the first five innings.

In the sixth, the Cardinals appeared poised to strike. Adam Wainwright led off with a single and, one out later, Colby Rasmus walked. Norris got out of the jam by inducing Albert Pujols to pop out to third and striking out Matt Holliday.

“He kept his composure,” Wainwright told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

In the seventh, the Cardinals threatened again. With one out, Mark DeRosa walked and Yadier Molina singled, but Norris struck out Julio Lugo and Joe Thurston.

The Astros prevailed, 2-0. “I told him he had 299 (wins) more to go and he’d be in the Hall of Fame,” Oswalt said. Boxscore

Purpose pitches

Norris was 7-2 with a 2.17 ERA in his first 11 career appearances versus the Cardinals. His career mark against them is 8-7.

Perhaps his best outing came on June 8, 2011, when he limited the Cardinals to one hit in eight innings in a 4-1 Astros victory at Houston.

“Every pitch he threw had a purpose,” said Cardinals leadoff batter Ryan Theriot.

Wrote Post-Dispatch columnist Bernie Miklasz: “The Cardinals turn Norris into Bob Gibson, circa 1968.”

The lone hit allowed by Norris was a solo home run to former teammate Lance Berkman with two outs in the seventh.

Noting how Norris effectively mixed sliders and changeups with fastballs, Berkman said, “He’s got a better feel for his off-speed stuff.” Boxscore

Norris had his best season (15-8, 3.65 ERA) with the 2014 Orioles. He joined the Cardinals with a career record of 64-84 and a 4.49 ERA and pitched for the Astros (2009-2013), Orioles (2013-2015), Padres (2015), Braves (2016), Dodgers (2016) and Angels (2017).

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In the first eight months of 1988, Bob Forsch rejoined the Cardinals, turned in one of his best stretches as a starting pitcher and was traded when they determined he no longer fit their plans.

Forsch’s roller-coast 1988 season was set in motion by the actions of the Cardinals in December 1987. Though Forsch tied for the team lead in regular-season wins (11) and also earned a win apiece in the National League Championship Series and the World Series in 1987, the Cardinals released him in a cost-cutting move just before Christmas.

Baseball rules said a club could cut the salary of a player on the roster by no more than 20 percent, but the Cardinals wanted to reduce Forsch’s pay by much more than that. By releasing him and making him a free agent, the Cardinals could re-sign him without restrictions.

According to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, the Cardinals offered Forsch a 1988 base salary of $200,000, a reduction of 73 percent from the $750,000 he made in 1987.

“I can’t think of too many players who won 11 games and they gave them a 73 percent cut,” Forsch said. “I can’t think of too many players who won 11 games and got released.”

Said Cardinals general manager Dal Maxvill: “I felt his performance last year, even though he tied for the lead in wins, was such that we didn’t feel we should pay him $750,000.”

Preferring to stay in St. Louis, Forsch, 38, negotiated a compromise. He would pitch for the 1988 Cardinals at a base salary that was 47 percent less than what he made in 1987. Twenty years ago, in January 1988, he signed a $400,000 contract with the Cardinals. The deal also gave Forsch the chance to earn more if certain incentives were met.

“I really want to stay here, but I’m not going to play very many more years and I plan to get as much money as I can before I retire,” Forsch said. “The whole Cardinals organization has been super to me, but you just get to a point where you get tired at the whole process … You get tired of hearing how old you are.”

Good enough to trade

Though he made 30 starts for them in 1987, the Cardinals projected Forsch to be a reliever in 1988. However, because injuries depleted the rotation, Forsch made 12 starts for the 1988 Cardinals, including six in August when he had a 5-1 record and a 2.25 ERA.

“Forsch’s secret has been consistency,” the Post-Dispatch reported. “He’s endured with the strength of a marathon runner, the fortitude of a mountain climber.”

Said Cardinals manager Whitey Herzog: “Just when you count the son of a buck out, he fights back. He’s something.”

By the end of August, Forsch was 9-4 with a 3.73 ERA in 30 appearances for the 1988 Cardinals. As a starter, he was 5-2 with a 2.97 ERA. Nonetheless, the Cardinals told Forsch they couldn’t commit to him being on the team in 1989.

“I know (Forsch) has pitched well, but he’s going to be 39 years old,” Maxvill said.

When Forsch signed in January, he and Maxvill had discussed the possibility of a trade late in the season, the Post-Dispatch reported.

Still wanting to pitch, Forsch said he would agree to a trade to a contender. As a player who spent five years with one team and 10 in the league, Forsch, under baseball rules, needed to approve any proposed deal involving him.

Business deal

The second-place Astros, managed by former Cardinals coach Hal Lanier, showed the most interest in Forsch. They saw him as a starter who could help them in their pursuit of the NL West-leading Dodgers.

Forsch agreed to the trade when the Astros guaranteed him a contract for 1989.

On Aug. 31, 1988, after 15 seasons with the Cardinals, Forsch was traded to the Astros for utility player Denny Walling.

“I hate leaving, but I’m going to someplace where I’m going to enjoy it,” Forsch said.

Said Forsch’s friend, Cardinals trainer Gene Gieselmann: “I was hoping he would always be a Cardinal, but baseball is a business and all of us in baseball have to look at it that way.”

Calling Forsch “a great teacher and a great person,” Maxvill told him the Cardinals would give him a job in the organization in 1989 if he was unable to pitch for the Astros. “I feel good about that,” Forsch responded.

Forsch won his first start for the 1988 Astros, shutting out the Reds for eight innings and contributing a three-run double. Boxscore  However, in six starts for them, Forsch was 1-4 with a 6.51 ERA and the Astros finished in fifth place.

In 1989, his last season in the big leagues, Forsch was 4-5 with a 5.32 ERA for the Astros.

Forsch, who ranks third all-time among Cardinals pitchers in wins (163) and second in games started (401), was elected to the Cardinals Hall of Fame in 2015.

Previously: Why Bob Forsch didn’t end his career as a Cardinal

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Bob Bailey had lots of hits against the Cardinals in his career, but it was an out he made that was most memorable.

Bailey, a right-handed hitter with power who played 17 years in the major leagues, died Jan. 9, 2018, at 75. Primarily a third baseman and left fielder, Bailey played for the Pirates (1962-1966), Dodgers (1967-1968), Expos (1969-1975), Reds (1976-1977) and Red Sox (1977-1978).

In 199 games versus the Cardinals, Bailey had 176 hits, including 20 home runs, and 82 RBI. He batted .358 (24-for-67) against the Cardinals in 1964 and .339 (20-for-59) in 1974. One of his best games occurred on May 21, 1968, when he produced five RBI for the Dodgers against the Cardinals at St. Louis.

By 1977, when Bailey was with the Reds, he primarily was a pinch-hitter. That was the year he had a feature role in a St. Louis drama.

Big Red Machine

On May 9, 1977, a game between the Reds and Cardinals at Busch Stadium was the ABC-TV “Monday Night Baseball” national telecast. The Reds, with their powerful Big Red Machine lineup, were two-time defending World Series champions. The Cardinals, in their first season under manager Vern Rapp, were looking to make a mark after finishing 18 games under .500 in 1976.

In the bottom of the eighth inning, the Cardinals’ Keith Hernandez led off with a home run against Rawly Eastwick, tying the score at 5-5.

Rapp brought in Al Hrabosky to pitch the ninth. The left-hander, known as the “Mad Hungarian,” immediately got into trouble. Ken Griffey singled, Joe Morgan walked and Dan Driessen bunted for a single, loading the bases with none out. George Foster was up next and Johnny Bench was on deck. Both were right-handed power hitters.

“I thought with Foster and Bench coming up, there was no way,” Hernandez said to Dick Kaegel of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “I thought they’d at least get a fly ball and get a run in.”

Mind games

Hrabosky, forced by Rapp to shave his Fu Manchu in compliance with the manager’s policy banning facial hair, decided to challenge the sluggers exclusively with fastballs. “They knew it was coming,” said Cardinals catcher Ted Simmons.

Foster struck out swinging.

Bench did the same.

With a left-handed batter, Cesar Geronimo, due up next, Reds manager Sparky Anderson sent Bailey to face Hrabosky. Bailey, whose father, Paul, played in the Cardinals’ minor-league system in 1940, batted .370 as a Reds pinch-hitter in 1976.

When the count got to 1-and-2 on Bailey, Hrabosky walked in a semicircle from the mound almost to second base, turned his back on Bailey, talked aloud to himself, pounded the ball into his mitt and stomped back onto the hill.

“I talk to the gypsy war gods,” Hrabosky said. “I work myself into a controlled rage.”

Bailey fouled off each of Hrabosky’s next three pitches. After each one, Hrabosky went behind the mound and performed his antics, heightening the tension with each delivery. “In a way, I self-hypnotize myself,” he told the Chicago Sun-Times. “I learned how to manipulate my mind between pitches.”

On the seventh pitch of the at-bat, Bailey watched the ball go into Simmons’ glove for a called strike three.

Hrabosky delivered a performance worthy of Houdini, striking out three right-handed sluggers and leaving the bases loaded.

“I was completely in awe,” said Hernandez.

Said Simmons: “It was dark and all of a sudden he groped around until he found the light switch and turned it on.”

Perfect play

After the Cardinals went down in order in their half of the ninth, Hrabosky returned to pitch the 10th. He retired the first two batters before Ray Knight singled. Griffey followed with a double off the wall in right.

As Knight raced around the bases, right fielder Mike Anderson, inserted as a defensive replacement for starter Hector Cruz, fielded a carom off the padding of the wall, turned and fired a throw to the cutoff man, shortstop Don Kessinger.

“He gave me a good, high relay throw where I could handle it,” Kessinger said.

Simmons kneeled in front of home plate, awaiting the peg from Kessinger. “My theory is to block the plate. Don’t let him get there,” Simmons said.

Knight dived head-first and was tagged out by Simmons, ending the Reds’ threat.

“It was a perfect play,” Rapp told United Press International. “Anderson acted real cool and Kessinger did a superb job. Simmons knew he had the guy.”

Simmons connects

The Reds brought in Dale Murray, a right-hander, to pitch the bottom half of the 10th. His best pitch was a sinking fastball, but it had been staying up in the strike zone in recent outings. With switch-hitter Simmons, batting left-handed, leading off, Murray told Bench he would throw knuckleballs.

Hernandez tipped off Simmons that Murray might throw the knuckler. “The thing I try to do with knuckleballs is not swing until I have to,” Simmons told the Associated Press. “All you can hope is that you can gauge the speed of it.”

With the count 2-and-2, Murray delivered a knuckleball that darted toward Simmons’ right knee. He drove it over the wall in right for a walkoff home run, giving the Cardinals a 6-5 triumph. Boxscore

“It was the greatest game I ever played in,” Hernandez said.

Calling it “a game that wobbled the knees and blew the mind,” Kaegel informed Post-Dispatch readers, “It was a classic thriller, baseball at its spine-tingling best.”

Previously: 5 memorable Reds-Cardinals games of 1970s

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In his major-league debut for the Cardinals, Rick Ankiel gave up a home run to Vladimir Guerrero. Like many pitchers, Ankiel learned fast that Guerrero was a dangerous hitter.

Guerrero is a leading candidate for election to the Baseball Hall of Fame when results of voting by the Baseball Writers Association of America are announced on Jan. 24, 2018. In 2017, his first year on the ballot, Guerrero got 71.7 percent of the vote. A candidate needs 75 percent to be elected.

In his playing career with the Expos (1996-2003), Angels (2004-2009), Rangers (2010) and Orioles (2011), Guerrero batted .318 with 2,590 hits, 449 home runs and 1,496 RBI.

A right-handed batter and outfielder, Guerrero batted .280 against the Cardinals with 59 hits in 55 games and 43 RBI.

His best seasons versus St. Louis were 1999 (.333 with nine RBI in nine games) and 2002 (.409 with seven RBI in six games).

Guerrero had two hits, both home runs, and three walks in seven career plate appearances against Ankiel.

Rookie mistake

Ankiel, 20, was a highly touted pitching prospect. He heightened expectations by posting a combined 13-3 record and 2.35 ERA with Class AA Arkansas and Class AAA Memphis in 1999. The Cardinals promoted him to the big leagues in late summer and he was given a start in his debut on Aug. 23, 1999, at Montreal.

In his first at-bat against Ankiel, Guerrero grounded out sharply to first baseman Mark McGwire in the second inning. With the Cardinals ahead, 4-1, Guerrero batted again in the fourth. Ankiel, a left-hander, wanted to jam Guerrero with a fastball on the fists, but the pitch stayed over the plate and Guerrero lined it over the right-field wall. The home run was his 30th of the season and extended his hitting streak to 28 games.

“I didn’t get the fastball inside,” Ankiel told columnist Bernie Miklasz of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “I left it out there and he capitalized on it.”

Speaking through an interpreter, Guerrero told the Associated Press, “The only thing I do is try to swing. So far, so good. I’m going to keep swinging.”

In the sixth, after Jose Vidro singled, Cardinals manager Tony La Russa lifted Ankiel with Guerrero at the plate and St. Louis ahead, 4-2. “Guerrero already had centered two balls off him, so I thought it was time for the change,” La Russa said.

Heathcliff Slocumb relieved and got Guerrero to pop out to McGwire. After that, the game unraveled for the Cardinals. Vidro eventually scored and Slocumb and Rich Croushore gave up eight runs. The Expos won, 11-7, and Ankiel, who departed with the lead, didn’t get a decision. Boxscore

Hitting a hanger

A year later, on Aug. 1, 2000, at Montreal, Guerrero came to bat against Ankiel with runners on first and second, two outs, in the fifth inning of a scoreless game. Ankiel had walked Guerrero intentionally earlier in the game, but this time he decided to pitch to him.

“We weren’t going to give him anything to hit,” Cardinals pitching coach Dave Duncan told the Post-Dispatch.

Ankiel’s first pitch to Guerrero was a curve. He “tried to throw the best curveball he ever threw,” La Russa said. “Sometimes you try to do more and you end up doing less.”

The pitch floated over the middle of the plate. Guerrero hit it over the wall in left-center for a three-run home run. The Expos went on to win, 4-0.

Said Ankiel: “I hung it … With him up to bat, you can’t hang that pitch in that situation.” Boxscore

Pals with Pujols

Guerrero, 6 feet 3 and 235 pounds, hit 12 career home runs against the Cardinals. He hit three against Matt Morris, two apiece off Ankiel and Garrett Stephenson and one each against Cliff Politte, Larry Luebbers, Travis Smith, Jason Simontacchi and Woody Williams.

In 2001, when the Expos and Cardinals shared a spring training facility at Jupiter, Fla, Guerrero befriended Cardinals rookie Albert Pujols, who, like Guerrero, is a native of the Dominican Republic. Pujols, in a big-league camp for the first time, was looking to fit in. Guerrero included Pujols in friendly games of dominoes with other Dominican players and treated him to his mother’s home-cooked meals.

“Vladdy was one of the first guys I looked up to,” Pujols said to the Los Angeles Times in a 2016 interview. “People kind of misread Vladdy because he doesn’t like to talk too much, but he’s one of the best guys that I’ve ever been around. The way he treats people is really special. He’s always smiling. He played the game hard and had fun.”

Pujols was playing left field for the Cardinals in a game at Montreal when Guerrero hit a ball so hard it bent the top of the wall and carried over for a home run.

“On a line. He bent the wall,” Pujols said to Yahoo Sports in 2016. “He was unbelievable … He was a fearless hitter … You had to stop and watch him. If they were on TV and you were going out, you had to watch his at-bat first.”

Previously: How Cardinals gambled on Rick Ankiel in 1997 draft

Previously: Revisiting Rick Ankiel’s debut with Cardinals

 

 

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The Cardinals thought they were getting a short-inning reliever when they signed free agent Kent Bottenfield. Instead, much to their surprise, they got a pitcher who transformed into a starter and eventually became a big winner for them.

Twenty years ago, on Jan. 6, 1998, Bottenfield joined the Cardinals after two seasons as a reliever for the Cubs. A right-hander, Bottenfield, 29, received a one-year contract with a club option for 1999. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported Bottenfield signed for an estimated $500,000; the Chicago Tribune said he agreed to a contract for $700,000.

The Cardinals figured Bottenfield would set up closer Jeff Brantley by pitching the seventh or eighth inning of games. However, just two months into the season, with their rotation decimated by injuries and ineffectiveness, the Cardinals in desperation gave Bottenfield the chance to start.

A year later, Bottenfield became the Cardinals’ most effective starting pitcher and a National League all-star.

Comeback trail

Utilized as both a starter and a reliever, Bottenfield pitched for three teams _ Expos (1992-1993), Rockies (1993-1994) and Giants (1994) _ in his first three seasons in the major leagues.

He was released by the Giants after the 1994 season and was signed by the Tigers, who sent him to their Class AAA affiliate, the Toledo Mud Hens. Bottenfield spent the 1995 season with Toledo and was 5-11 with a 4.54 ERA.

With his career at a crossroads, Bottenfield, a free agent, was picked up by the Cubs, who placed him with their Class AAA club in Iowa. Bottenfield revived his career, posting a 2.19 ERA in 28 relief appearances for Iowa. The Cubs called up Bottenfield in June 1996 and he pitched well (2.63 ERA) and often (48 games) for them the remainder of the season.

In 1997, Bottenfield made 64 relief appearances for the Cubs and had a 3.86 ERA.

He became a free agent again and, this time, received keen interest from the Cardinals and Astros. When Bottenfield chose St. Louis, Walt Jocketty, the Cardinals’ general manager, declared, “We won the lottery.”

Solid journeyman

Bottenfield appealed to the Cardinals because their veteran right-handed setup man, Mark Petkovsek, had struggled in 1997, posting a 4.78 ERA in 53 relief appearances. Right-handed batters hit .314 against Petkovsek.

Bottenfield had a good spring training for the 1998 Cardinals. “Perhaps this will be one former Cub who actually helps a team win rather than drag it down,” the Post-Dispatch opined.

With Brantley on the disabled list for the first week of the regular season, Cardinals manager Tony La Russa turned to Bottenfield to fill in as closer.

On April 4, Bottenfield earned a save with two scoreless innings against the Padres. Boxscore Three days later, on April 7, he got another save against the Rockies. With the potential tying run on base in the ninth inning, Bottenfield struck out Vinny Castilla and Jeff Reed and got Neifi Perez to fly out to right, preserving the first big-league win for starter Cliff Politte. Boxscore

“He’s a solid, journeyman reliever,” Cardinals pitching coach Dave Duncan said of Bottenfield. “Most of the time, he’ll do a good job for us.”

Brantley returned from the disabled list on April 9 and Bottenfield went back to a setup role.

Transformer man

On June 4, after Bottenfield made a team-leading 26 relief appearances, the Post-Dispatch reported he would join the rotation and become the Cardinals’ 12th starting pitcher of the season. Bottenfield hadn’t started a major-league game in four years. His big-league record as a starter was 6-11 with a 5.04 ERA.

“I’m going to have to use all my pitches and mix them up a little better,” Bottenfield said.

In his first Cardinals start, June 5 versus the Giants, Bottenfield lasted three innings and yielded three runs. In his next start, June 10, against the White Sox, Bottenfield pitched five scoreless innings, allowing one hit. Boxscore

“That Kent Bottenfield … would throw one-hit shutout ball for five innings was at least a surprise, if not a shock,” declared the Post-Dispatch.

On June 18, Bottenfield got his first win as a Cardinals starter, beating the Astros. In 10 starts from July 4 through Aug. 24, Bottenfield was 2-0 with eight no-decisions. In that stretch, he lowered his ERA from 5.31 to 4.51.

“Early on, my goal was to keep us in the game,” Bottenfield said of his starting role. “The more I’ve pitched, my goal has changed, not to necessarily dominate but to try to win some games.”

Key contributor

By August, as Bottenfield established credibility, La Russa and Duncan became convinced he should remain a starter beyond 1998.

“He deserves a lot of credit,” La Russa said. “He’s developed into a starter from a short reliever. He’s built his stamina and he’s very competitive. He routinely gets us into the second half of the game with a chance to win.”

Said Duncan: “The situation being what it has been has created the opportunity for Bottenfield to start. We had no intentions of ever doing that when we got him.”

On Sept. 4, Bottenfield injured his left toe and was sidelined for the rest of the season.

His 1998 totals: 4-6 record, 4.44 ERA, four saves in 44 games, including 17 starts. Bottenfield was 1-2 with a 5.50 ERA as a reliever and 3-4 with a 4.08 ERA as a starter.

“He’s shown me enough that he’s a strong candidate to do something important for the club next year,” La Russa said.

In 1999, Bottenfield developed into an ace. He was 18-7 with a 3.97 ERA in 31 starts and was selected to the all-star team. Bottenfield was second in the National League in winning percentage (.720). He led the 1999 Cardinals in wins (18), starts (31) and strikeouts (124). Bottenfield and reliever Heathcliff Slocumb (2.36) were the only pitchers for the 1999 Cardinals with ERAs better than 4.00.

On March 23, 2000, the Cardinals traded Bottenfield and second baseman Adam Kennedy to the Angels for center fielder Jim Edmonds.

Bottenfield became head baseball coach at Palm Beach Atlantic University in Florida in 2012, replacing Hall of Fame catcher Gary Carter, who died in February that year. A singer and songwriter, Bottenfield also made two contemporary Christian albums.

Previously: How Kent Mercker became leader of Cardinals rotation

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Though he hadn’t pitched in the major leagues since having shoulder surgery, the Cardinals signed Matt Clement with the expectation he would be on their Opening Day roster and ready to contribute as part of their 2008 starting rotation.

Ten years ago, on Jan. 3, 2008, the Cardinals signed Clement, a free agent right-hander, to a one-year contract with a club option for 2009. The Cardinals guaranteed Clement, 33, a $1.5 million base salary for 2008 and a spot on their 40-man major-league roster, even though he had sat out the 2007 season while recovering from an operation that reconstructed his right shoulder.

Many hailed the move as a worthy experiment.

Seven months later, the test was deemed a failure.

Clement never pitched for the Cardinals. He did walk away, however, with nearly $2 million.

Leap of faith

Clement began his big-league career with the Padres (1998-2000) and also pitched for the Marlins (2001), Cubs (2002-2004) and Red Sox (2005-2006). His best pitches were a heavy sinker and a slider. His best attribute was his reliability. Clement made at least 30 starts in each of seven straight seasons (1999-2005).

His top years were 2003, when he earned 14 wins for the National League Central Division champion Cubs, and 2005, when he was named to the American League all-star team and was 13-6 for the defending World Series champion Red Sox. Overall, though, his career marks were insipid: an 87-86 record and a 4.47 ERA.

In 2006, with the cartilage and tendons in his shoulder in tatters, Clement was 5-5 with a 6.61 ERA when the Red Sox sent him for surgery in August. He didn’t pitch in 2007 and he became a free agent after the season.

The Cardinals decided to invest in Clement after he passed a team physical performed by Dr. George Paletta. Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak declared Clement “100 percent healthy” and said he expected the pitcher to be ready by Opening Day, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported.

“It just made sense that we take this leap of faith,” Mozeliak said.

Claiming he had interest from other clubs, Clement said he chose the Cardinals because “they stepped up and believed in me right away.”

High hopes

The Cardinals projected Clement would join a 2008 rotation with Adam Wainwright, Joel Pineiro, Braden Looper and Mark Mulder. Like Clement, Mulder had undergone shoulder surgery. The Cardinals expected him to be ready in May.

Skeptics scoffed the Cardinals were depending too much on a retread (Pineiro), a converted reliever (Looper) and two pitchers with shredded shoulders (Clement and Mulder).

Mozeliak, however, repeatedly said he was comfortable with the composition of the starting staff as well as with the backups the Cardinals had in Todd Wellemeyer, Brad Thompson and Anthony Reyes. Of Clement, Mozeliak said, “He has high expectations, as do we.”

Bryan Burwell, a Post-Dispatch columnist, called Mozeliak’s move to acquire Clement “a calculated hunch” and a “vastly intriguing trinket to their already burgeoning Island of Misfit Toys.”

In a February Post-Dispatch poll asking “How many games will Matt Clement win this season?,” 46 percent responded 10 to 12, and 24 percent said 13 to 15. Only 6 percent said 0 to 5.

Weak arm

The breezy blather regarding Clement came to a halt as soon as Cardinals pitching coach Dave Duncan got his first look at him in spring training camp at Jupiter, Fla. Duncan determined Clement lacked arm strength. “I will be surprised if he’s ready for Opening Day,” Duncan said.

Duncan put Clement on a program of long tosses rather than throws from the mound. Meanwhile, Pineiro developed an injury and his status for Opening Day was in doubt. With the rotation at risk of unraveling, the Cardinals on March 13 signed free agent Kyle Lohse and plugged him into a rotation with Wainwright, Looper, Wellemeyer and Thompson.

On March 25, Clement pitched in a minor-league scrimmage at Jupiter. His fastest pitch was 86 mph. Clement “was not throwing with the strength or control needed to be effective,” the Post-Dispatch reported.

The Cardinals placed Clement on the 15-day disabled list and said he would begin the 2008 season in extended spring training.

Comeback aborted

At the end of May, the Cardinals said Clement would begin a 30-day minor-league rehabilitation assignment. Mozeliak said the move “starts the clock” on a return to the majors for Clement. “Mentally, he’s ready to move on,” Mozeliak said. “Physically, he is as well.”

In a June 3 start for the Class A Palm Beach Cardinals, Clement pitched six shutout innings, allowing one hit. He was advanced to Class AA Springfield, Mo. In two starts for the Springfield Cardinals, Clement was 1-0 with a 5.40 ERA.

Clement was moved up to the Class AAA Memphis Redbirds. In his first start for them, he gave up six runs in three innings. The Cardinals decided to convert Clement into a reliever. “It seems to be clear it’s going to be difficult for Matt to contribute as a starter,” Mozeliak said.

In 13 games with Memphis, Clement was 1-0 with a 7.02 ERA.

On Aug. 2, the Cardinals released Clement. “We didn’t feel like he was going to contribute to our major-league team, so we didn’t want him to block our younger guys coming up,” Mozeliak said.

The Cardinals paid Clement the remainder of his $1.5 million salary, plus a $250,000 buyout on his 2009 option, according to the Post-Dispatch. In all, Clement got $1.75 million from the Cardinals.

Because of strong seasons from Lohse (15-6), Wellemeyer (13-9) and Wainwright (11-3), the 2008 Cardinals overcame the failures of Clement and Mulder (who made three appearances for them) and finished 86-76.

“If you want to harangue Mozeliak for taking one gamble that blew up _ spending $1.5 million on rehabbing pitcher Matt Clement _ then go right ahead, but it’s inconsequential” wrote Post-Dispatch columnist Bernie Miklasz. “Mozeliak has moved the Cardinals into a surprising position: that of a contender.”

The Blue Jays signed Clement to a contract in December 2008, but he didn’t stick with them. At 34, his pitching career was finished.

Previously: Wrangle at Wrigley: Tony La Russa vs. Dusty Baker

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