Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

REDUCING ROOKIE PITCHERS' MILEAGE; Cardinals Learned Lesson from 'Strasburg Shutdown,' Instigated Plan to Keep Young Pitchers Viable for Postseason; BASEBALL

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

REDUCING ROOKIE PITCHERS' MILEAGE; Cardinals Learned Lesson from 'Strasburg Shutdown,' Instigated Plan to Keep Young Pitchers Viable for Postseason; BASEBALL

Article excerpt

The Cardinals don't want to name-drop what other teams choose to do with their young, cherished arms is, after all, their business but one pitcher is on the tip of the tongue when exploring how they preserved rookies Shelby Miller, Michael Wacha and others this season.

That's because when the Cardinals played Washington in the first round of the playoffs last October, they didn't have to face Stephen Strasburg. The Cardinals didn't want to give an opponent the same luxury.

As the first-place Cardinals enter the final sprint toward October they have a lead in the National League Central Division, 19 games remaining (16 against losing teams), and a full complement of available rookie pitchers.

A year after Washington engaged in a National debate by shutting down Strasburg weeks before the postseason started, the Cardinals adopted a different plan. They were going to limit the innings for Wacha, Miller and others, but do so throughout the season so they wouldn't be a spectator in September or, if possible, October.

"I think you try to watch and learn, right?" Cards manager Mike Matheny asked. "Every situation is different. But we don't want to put a kid in that tough situation where they're watching. We explained (to Wacha) where we are and what the thought process is. The league learns new things every year. Some of these young guys all over baseball are coming up and making a splash in September. How do we protect them and at the same time get the best from them?"

Wacha (3-0) pitched seven scoreless innings against division contender Pittsburgh on Sunday and in two starts against the two closest teams to the Cardinals in the standings the rookie has thrown 13 consecutive shutout innings.

Miller (12-9), who starts tonight at Busch Stadium against Milwaukee, is looking for footing after a few stumbles in August. He will be making his 28th start of the season, matching his total from last season. At this point in the season, Wacha and Miller have thrown fewer innings in 2013 than they did in 2012.

The same is true as October approaches for rookies Carlos Martinez, Trevor Rosenthal, Seth Maness, Kevin Siegrist and Tyler Lyons.

If anything, an official said, Wacha and Martinez are short of initial projections.

"Right now, you can't ignore the program that was put in place and how it worked," Matheny said. "It's one of those impossible things to measure, though. You'll never know how it would have been if you just went right along throwing them into the fire. ... We looked at where we would have to draw the line and the longer we delayed that, the more they could compete."

When it came to Wacha, the Cardinals' first-round pick in 2012, the club estimated that he would come to the majors around Aug. 1, general manager John Mozeliak said. The club worked his schedule back from there, inserting ways to get him a break and save innings. The team didn't go into the season with a hard innings or pitch limit, choosing instead to set a range, based in part on studies and other young pitchers.

The goal was to avoid having Wacha, who pitched 113 1/3 innings for Texas A&M in 2012 and 134 1/3 innings total, push too far beyond 150 innings. Miller, who pitched 150 1/3 innings last season, could target 175-180 innings or so. A lot depended on how strong they looked, how many pitches they'd thrown in individual starts, and, of course, their health. The Cardinals track what they call "stress" innings and wanted to react to those, especially with Wacha in Class AAA.

Mozeliak, his front office staff, minor-league officials Gary LaRocque and Brent Strom outlined a schedule for Wacha's April, May, June and July that would keep him available for the majors starting in August.

"The only fly in the ointment was when we brought him up," Mozeliak said.

Mostly because of injuries, the Cardinals needed a starter in late May and promoted Wacha, less than 365 days removed from college ball, to make his debut. …

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