As the St. Louis Cardinals headed into the ninth inning of a 2-2 tie game with the Washington Nationals on Sunday, manager Mike Matheny didn’t have the greatest variety of options on the mound. After Shelby Miller went 5.1 scoreless innings but issued five walks, Matheny ran through lefties Randy Choate and Kevin Siegrist and righties Carlos Martinez and Pat Neshek. That left him with righthanders Jorge Rondon and Eric Fornataro, both of who had been recently recalled and had yet to make a big-league appearance, closer Trevor Rosenthal, and struggling middle reliever Seth Maness. While Matheny obviously had some hope that Maness could turn it around, things ended up going exactly as expected.
Maness, who came into the game with a 6.35 ERA, started off by striking out Ian Desmond. After that, though, he promptly issues singles to Danny Espinosa and Jose Lobaton, walked Nate McLouth, and allowed Denard Span to drive in the winning run with a sacrifice fly. This continues a rough stretch for Maness, who gave up a run in his first appearance of the season, had three scoreless outings, and then had his roughest appearance of the season Wednesday, giving up three earned runs on four hits to the Milwaukee Brewers.
Maness really has not been consistent since giving up a three-run homer to Jonny Gomes in Game 4 of the World Series last year. It likely was on his mind over the winter, and the effects of it seemed to show during spring training this year, when Maness gave up 11 earned runs over 11 appearances spanning 11.2 innings. Maness was one of the Cardinals’ most consistent relievers last year, mastering the art of getting ground balls and inducing double plays to the tune of a 2.32 ERA over 66 appearances. Even considering that, it was a little bit surprising that he had enough clout to break camp with the big-league club this year, and if he continues to struggle like this it should be interesting to see how long Matheny’s leash is with him.
It’s not as if the Cardinals have a huge number of relievers who are lining up at the door to replace Maness. Longtime big-leaguer David Aardsma is at Triple-A, as is Rondon, who was optioned back to the minors after Sunday’s game. But the Cardinals don’t really have any hot prospects, like Maness was last season, waiting in the wings to fill a spot.
The Cardinals showed with Mark Rzepczynski and Mitchell Boggs last year that they are not afraid to demote an underperforming pitcher who has contributed to a successful playoff team in the past. With that said, Rzepczynski was allowed over a season’s worth of inconsistent performances before he was sent down, and his optioning was more a sign that the Cardinals had given up on him than an attempt to fix him. Boggs was kept around even after several absolute implosions, and he ultimately ended up being traded.
With Maness having significantly less major-league experience than either of those two pitchers, one has to wonder whether he could be allowed the opportunity to try to work out his issues at the minor-league level. Some pitchers get into a funk and are never able to rebound, but hopefully for both the Cardinals’ and Maness’s sake he can easily figure out what the problem is, make adjustments, and return to his previous form.