Jerome Williams Seems Like Most Logical Option to Start Sunday’s Game for St. Louis Cardinals

Aug 15, 2015; Milwaukee, WI, USA; Philadelphia Phillies pitcher Jerome Williams (31) pitches in the first inning against the Milwaukee Brewers at Miller Park. Mandatory Credit: Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports
Aug 15, 2015; Milwaukee, WI, USA; Philadelphia Phillies pitcher Jerome Williams (31) pitches in the first inning against the Milwaukee Brewers at Miller Park. Mandatory Credit: Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports /

The St. Louis Cardinals need a spot starter for Sunday, and Jerome Williams seems like the most logical fit.

Since they part in a doubleheader with the San Diego Padres on Wednesday, the St. Louis Cardinals have known for a couple days now that they’ll have to find a spot starter for Sunday’s game against the Los Angeles Dodgers, making them the last MLB team to use a sixth starter this season. Heading into Friday night’s game with the Dodgers, it looked like lefthanded jack-of-all-trades Tyler Lyons was the favorite to fill that role.

Those hopes were crushed in Friday’s 16-inning affair, though, as Lyons was pressed into long relief duty and threw 53 pitches over 4 2/3 scoreless frames. Another guy who was considered a fringe candidate to get that start, Matt Bowman, threw 17 pitches over 1 1/3 innings, and even if that doesn’t automatically knock him out of contention to make the spot start, it’s worth noting that he hasn’t thrown more than two innings since May 22 and has been one of the first guys that Mike Matheny turns to in pressure situations as of late.

Seeing as neither Lyons or Bowman looks like an ideal candidate to start Sunday, especially as the Cardinals try to save a strained bullpen where every pitcher besides Miguel Socolovich and Trevor Rosenthal has made multiple appearances this week, the Cards will probably have to look beyond the current 25-man roster in their search for a Sunday starter.

More from Arch Authority

The most exciting options in terms of fan interest will surely be top prospect Alex Reyes, who has struggled recently at Triple-A Memphis, and former first-rounder Luke Weaver, who currently has a 1.31 ERA at Double-A Springfield but has made just nine starts in the upper minors. Reyes pitched Thursday, so he’s pretty much out of the mix, while Weaver is scheduled to pitch Saturday, so it’ll be a pretty clear indication of what’s about to go down if Weaver gets scratched. It would be a disservice for the organization to put either pitcher on the 40-man roster and start their big-league service clock if they’re just going to get sent right back down, so even ignoring the issue of proper rest, it seems unlikely that Reyes or Weaver would get called up to make the start, especially with the national spotlight that accompanies ESPN’s Sunday Night Baseball, on which the game will be featured.

More from St. Louis Cardinals

Considering his big-league experience and the fact that he’d be more rested–he’s scheduled to pitch Monday for the Redbirds, but threw a fairly modest 92 pitches on Wednesday–the best option to come up to the majors seems to be 34-year-old Jerome Williams, a veteran of 225 big-league games over 10 seasons. Williams signed a minor-league contract with the Cardinals organization on June 2, and while he’s been somewhat erratic for the Redbirds (as he’s been for most of his major-league career), he’s had some really good starts and at least has proven that he has what it takes to give the club five or six innings.

Williams has been an enigma over nine starts this year for Memphis. He had a five-hit complete game shutout on June 11 and also gave up just two earned runs over 7 1/3 innings on July 8. On the other end of the spectrum, though, he’s had starts where he’s given up eight runs over six innings and seven runs over five. For the year, Williams is 5-3 with a 4.89 ERA that’s rather pedestrian for the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League, along with a .287 opponent batting average and a 1.39 WHIP. Perhaps most importantly, Williams is averaging 6 1/3 innings per start.

There’d be a couple complicating factors in choosing Williams to make the start, but nothing that would be too drastic. First of all, as a long-standing big-league veteran, Williams would have to be designated for assignment and passed through waivers to be returned to the minor leagues if the Cardinals wanted to take him off their 25-man roster after making the spot start.

Even if they chose to keep him around as a long reliever for a little while after he made the start, they’d almost surely have to remove him from the roster to go back to a 12-man pitching staff once Matt Carpenter and Brandon Moss return. He’d very likely get through the waiver process unclaimed–there probably won’t be too much interest in a soft-tossing, 34-year-old righthander who has a 4.57 career ERA in the majors–but Williams has the right to elect free agency rather than being outrighted, and the Cardinals would probably want some assurance that he’d be willing to stick around in their system, considering the fact that they have so little proven starting pitching depth in the minors, and Williams is sort of an “arm in a glass case” in the event of an injury.

Secondly, the Cardinals would need to subtract a pitcher from their 25-man roster to add Williams, and that wouldn’t be an easy decision. Though Socolovich, who was recalled Tuesday, could go under a “last in, first out” policy, especially after he gave up a homer in Thursday’s game, it doesn’t make much sense to keep Rosenthal on the big-league roster when Matheny seems totally unwilling to use him in meaningful situations following his breakdown in last Friday’s game.

While it might sound to some like an easy decision to demote Rosenthal, who has a 5.46 ERA and 1.98 WHIP in 38 appearances this year, it will be tough to send down a guy who’s making $5.6 million this year and was an All-Star closer just 12 months ago. The fact that he tossed a perfect ninth inning on Monday–albeit with an eight-run lead–makes it even more difficult, since it looked like Rosenthal might finally be turning a corner.

Trevor Rosenthal St. Louis Cardinals
Jun 18, 2016; St. Louis, MO, USA; St. Louis Cardinals relief pitcher Trevor Rosenthal (44) walks off the field after being removed from the game during the ninth inning against the Texas Rangers at Busch Stadium. The Rangers won 4-3. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports /

The Cardinals could also option Seth Maness, who has a 4.57 ERA in 22 appearances, but he finally looks to be returning to form and has now been pressed into duty in four of the past six games. He’s thrown 4 1/3 straight perfect innings since July 9, and if he can bounce back, he’d be a major in-house source of help for the stretch run in the Cardinals’ bullpen. While he seemed like an afterthought two weeks ago, Maness looks like he’s back and not at all deserving of a demotion.

Whatever the case, the Cardinals will probably have to make a sacrifice, sending one of their current eight relievers to Triple-A for at least 10 days, even if they might not totally deserve it. They need a starter, though, and getting one who’s capable of giving them innings is a more efficient plan than knocking Lyons or Bowman out of commission for several days while also risking straining the rest of the ‘pen if one of those guys isn’t up to the challenge of going four or five innings.

Next: Michael McKenry Spurns Cardinals, Signs with Braves

If Williams is indeed the guy, it should be a fun reunion for him with manager Mike Matheny, who caught a 24-year-old Williams with the San Francisco Giants back in 2005.