Carpenter will be used to nail down wins

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

ST. LOUIS -- With Chris Carpenter limited to relief duty the rest of the season, the St. Louis Cardinals may be calling on their ace to get the final outs.

Whenever he's available, perhaps once a series, manager Tony La Russa said the 2005 NL Cy Young winner will be his first choice as the closer.

"I'm looking forward to giving it to Carp," La Russa said Sunday, echoing remarks from the previous day. "We'd have some fun."

The Cardinals have been leaning on 22-year-old rookie Chris Perez since demoting Jason Isringhausen for the second time this year. Perez had six straight saves before blowing two straight, although he got the last two outs for his seventh save in 10 opportunities overall in Sunday's 3-1 victory over the Marlins.

Lately, another fireballing rookie, Jason Motte, has been used in late-inning situations. It's a matter of necessity after Isringhausen twice failed to hold the closer role and Ryan Franklin also faltered after some initial success.

"It would be great to be able to use Chris and Jason in the sixth, seventh and eighth," La Russa said. "That's the way it should work this year."

The Cardinals lead the major leagues with 30 bullpen losses and 30 blown saves, a major reason they're 4 1/2 games behind the Brewers in the NL wild card standings entering a three-game series against the NL Central-leading Cubs today. They're not quite ready to give up.

"This game is too crazy to give up on something, especially the way we've played all year," Adam Wainwright said after beating the Marlins on Sunday. "There's no quit in this team, there's no quit in me."

The same goes for Perez, who can't recall blowing saves in consecutive games at any level in his career.

"That's one of the good things about the game, you get more chances," Perez said. "I was happy to be put out there again."

The next time a game is on the line, it figures to be Carpenter -- if he's available. That's a big if, because the former 21-game winner must be handled with care. He wasn't available Sunday, after experiencing difficulty warming up Friday.

Carpenter injured his shoulder in his third start of the season coming off reconstructive elbow surgery that limited him to one start in 2007, and the Cardinals decided to use the right-hander in the bullpen last week rather than wait for him to feel perfect with the season winding down.

Carpenter is 0-1 with a 1.76 ERA in 15 1/3 innings and has been used only once since coming off the DL on Sept. 1, working around two hits in a scoreless inning at Arizona last Tuesday. That was Carpenter's first appearance since Aug. 10, when he left in the sixth inning of a start against the Cubs, and his first relief outing since Oct. 1, 2000, at Cleveland, when he was with the Blue Jays. He has no career saves or save chances.

With Carpenter, the Cardinals are attempting to duplicate their success with Adam Wainwright, but in reverse. Wainwright was the stand-in closer for the Cardinals' 2006 World Series run after Isringhausen had hip surgery in September, and won 14 games in 2007 and is an impressive 9-3 with a 2.85 ERA this year although he missed two months with a tendon injury to the middle finger on his pitching hand.

La Russa minimized the risk with Perez on Sunday, starting the ninth with left-hander Randy Flores against Mike Jacobs, who homered off Perez on Friday in the Marlins' 4-1, 11-inning win. Flores ended up retiring pinch hitter Wes Helms.

Rookie Kyle McClellan, normally a middle reliever, began warming up after Dan Uggla greeted Perez with a single. Perez said he never noticed while getting two routine outs to end it.

"I look back to see the lineup sometimes, see who's coming up, but I don't look at the bullpen," Perez said. "If they want to make a change, they want to make a change and it's out of my hands."

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