Cards not fretting bullpen's spring struggles
Pitching coach Lilliquist confident results will come for Mujica, Motte
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- At this point, it wouldn't be unreasonable to have some concern about the current state of the Cardinals' bullpen -- unless, of course, you are pitching coach Derek Lilliquist.
Lilliquist squashed the idea of there being anything to worry about following Tuesday's 12-3 loss to the Braves in which Edward Mujica and Jason Motte combined to give up eight runs (five earned) over the final two innings.
With his latest rough outing, Mujica has now allowed 10 earned runs on 14 hits in just six innings this spring for an unsightly 15.00 ERA. Motte hasn't fared much better, entering Wednesday's off-day with a 7.50 ERA over his six appearances.
"They'll get back on track, in terms of using their top two pitches and attacking the hitters," Lilliquist said. "I'm not worried about those guys one bit." Now factor in the club is still without Marc Rzepczynski (eye) and Mitchell Boggs (World Baseball Classic) -- and Fernando Salas just recently returned to the club from his stint at the Classic -- and that leaves some uncertainty for each of the Cardinals' top five relievers.
There is, however, some good news. Rzepczynski resumed throwing on Tuesday and is nearing a return from his freak eye injury, Salas threw a scoreless inning Tuesday with two strikeouts in his first action since returning and Boggs is at least getting his work in with Team USA.
To top it off, Mujica and Motte both claim their rough numbers to this point aren't anything to worry about, either.
For Mujica, part of the blame for the double-digit ERA falls on his current approach -- one that differs greatly from the one he will use in the regular season.
"It's just spring for him," Lilliquist said. "He's working on his slider more so than during the season. He's traditionally a fastball-changeup guy, and he's trying to dial in his slider, so he's using it probably more than in a normal game. I'm not worried about Mujica."
Mujica also mentioned two other key factors at play in his and Motte's slow starts -- early start times and game situations.
Along with waking up early on a near daily basis and dealing with the travel rigors of Spring Training, Mujica and Motte are also pitching in unfamiliar situations. Instead of entering close games in the later innings and protecting the lead, their appearances are mostly predetermined and irrelevant to the score or inning.
"It's definitely different," Motte said. "It's definitely not like pitching in the season. It's a little bit different going out there, as far as adrenaline-wise, but you've to go out there and do what you need to do to get your body where it needs to be."
It also doesn't hurt that both players have been in this exact situation before.
In 2011, Motte finished Spring Training with a 9.64 ERA over 10 appearances, but he was his dominant self in the regular season, posting a 2.25 ERA in a career-high 78 appearances. That same year, Mujica was going through a similar situation with the Marlins. The right-hander struggled to a 9.26 spring ERA before turning in the best season of his career -- a 9-6 campaign with a 2.96 ERA over 67 appearances.
"In 2011, the Marlins got concerned because I didn't throw very well in Spring Training," Mujica said. "But Spring Training is Spring Training. April 1, the season starts."
That's not to say the Cardinals relievers are pleased with the numbers they've been putting up. But at the same time, they realize the focus right now is to continue working on their pitches and stay healthy.
"When it comes down to it, [Spring Training] is a little bit different," Motte said. "But you still want to go out there and execute your pitches and, hopefully, you have good results."