In case you didn’t know already, Jake Westbrook isn’t very good these days.
Actually, the St. Louis Cardinals‘ no. 5 starter hasn’t been good for some time, with a disastrous string of starts since the All-Star break that has seen him end up with a 7.55/1.88 ERA/WHIP through 39.1 innings after largely luckboxing his way to a 2.88 ERA in the first half of the season.
In that sense, that the -0.1 fWAR veteran is on the shelf on the DL with a back strain is almost a blessing in disguise for the Cardinals.
As long as he was healthy enough to pitch, it was unlikely for the team to just take him out of the rotation; now, they have been given a good reason to move on at least what is likely to be through the rest of the 2013, but potentially beyond as well. The first step of that was the team moving Tyler Lyons to the starting rotation to fill the role for now, while calling up Carlos Martinez to join the bullpen.
The problem? Lyons isn’t likely to be much of an answer.
Though the soft-tossing lefty has found his share of success in triple-A this season thanks to his excellent control (4.42 K/BB in 2013, 4.94 in 2012), that element of his game just hasn’t translated for the 25-year old in his first cup of tea in the big leagues.
Yes, the team definitely has reasons to feel confident considering that he is coming off a scoreless two-inning performance out of the bullpen, and that he allowed just two runs in his first 14 innings (two starts) earlier this year; but as they saw in June, expecting that kind of sustained success is perhaps overly optimistic.
Falling into a habit of not pounding the strike zone as a result of getting hit to a tune of a .325 BAA, Lyons walked nine batters over 18.2 innings in his four June starts, allowing no less than four runs in each and completing a full six innings just once.
So, I think it’s fair to say that the team might just be playing with fire in that spot there, even if it’s just going to be 4-5 more starts.
But what choice to they have? Carlos Martinez has looked great since his return to triple-A, but his 16 innings in the bigs is hardly stuff to feel great about, even if his upside remains massive. With the Cardinals still in the midst of a tight playoff race (both divisional and Wild Card), they can’t simply afford to run out a fifth starter for the remainder of the season who is going to implode and (perhaps more importantly) wear down the bullpen.
The answer to their problems, as un-Cardinals-like as it may be, could be to look beyond the organization. Dan Haren is out there and available as a patchwork solution that won’t cost a long-term commitment. For an even lower cost, the team could also pursue Erik Bedard, who has literally zero reasons to still be with the Houston Astros at this stage of the season.
St. Louis has spent the better part of the last month letting Westbrook blow game after game; now that his injury has afforded them the opportunity to look elsewhere, they shouldn’t put someone in who is likely to do the same.