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Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Augenstein In, Salas Out As Cards Finalize the 'Pen

Posted By on Tue, Mar 29, 2011 at 9:25 AM

Augenstein and his sidearm funk last saw the majors in 2009.
  • Augenstein and his sidearm funk last saw the majors in 2009.
The Cardinals made their roster official yesterday, as they announced Daniel Descalso and Bryan Augenstein will both make the club's Opening Day roster. Descalso will serve as a utility infielder, while Augenstein becomes the final right-handed reliever in a reshaped bullpen. 

Descalso making the club isn't really a surprise, by any means. The Cards have need of depth in the infield, with David Freese a constant question mark health-wise and the middle infield spots not at all confidence-inspiring. Descalso made too much sense not to make the club, no matter how many home runs Nick Stavinoha hits off one knee. 

The bullpen, though, is a much more interesting decision, with Augenstein beating out two farm system products to complete his trip from non-roster invitee to Opening Day Cardinal. 

The choice of Augenstein over Fernando Salas and Eduardo Sanchez says as much about the starting rotation as it does the bullpen. All three pitchers performed exceedingly well this spring, and any of the three would certainly have been a justifiable choice to make the roster. However, both Salas and Sanchez profile as short relievers, guys who will throw high-leverage innings late in the game. Sanchez in particular looks like a possible future closer, while Salas has a prototypical setup man's repertoire and makeup. 
What Augenstein brings to the party that, I believe, ultimately swung the vote in his favour is a history as a starting pitcher. Throughout the minors, he's thrown more innings as a starter than reliever, and has actually proven fairly effective as such. 

As difficult as it will be to replace the quality Adam Wainwright brought to the mound every fifth day, the sheer number of innings he threw will be just as tough to replicate. Replicating those innings will fall on the current members of the Cards' starting rotation, but there's very little guarantee they'll be able to eat up the full load. Kyle McClellan is facing his first season as a starter in the major leagues. Kyle Lohse is coming off a season which saw him miss the better part of the year with a forearm issue usually seen only in European motocross riders and is almost unprecedented among pitchers. Jaime Garcia saw an enormous increase in his innings from 2009 to 2010, and there has to be some fear of regression there. Chris Carpenter is always a risk to miss time. Jake Westbrook has been mostly durable in his career, but is less than two years removed from Tommy John surgery. In short, there's reason to believe any or all of the Cardinals' five starters could miss a fair amount of time in 2011. 

With that backdrop, keeping Augenstein on the roster as a long reliever and potential swingman was imperative. As much as I like Salas and, especially, Sanchez, neither of them are well-suited to pitching multiple innings in the middle of a game. Augenstein is. I think the Cards definitely made the right decision in keeping him with the big club. Personally, I probably would have kept Salas over Miguel Batista, but that's just me. 

With Adam Wainwright on the shelf, there are going to be plenty of innings someone has to throw, and I think Augenstein will slide admirably into that Brad Thompson/Blake Hawksworth role. My only hope is that he'll pitch a little better than either, because otherwise it could be a long, frustrating summer watching long, frustrating fifth innings. 

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