A progression of Cardinals left-handed relievers

In the 17 years since Tony La Russa first arrived in St. Louis, the Cardinals employed at least two left-handed relievers to open the season in every year except one. In 1998, Lance Painter was the sole lefty in the pen, but the club knew what they had in him, as he was a holdover from the previous season.

In three years, including as recently as 2005, three of the team’s seven initial relievers of the season threw with their left hand. At first blush, 2012 continued the more regular pattern, with two lefties rostered at season’s start.

However, there is at least one significant difference. 2012 marks the only the third time in at least the last 16 years that neither left-hander had been with the Cardinals at the start of the previous season.

There is good news and bad when considering the two prior clubs with all new lefties, 2001 and 2009. While each went on to the make the post-season, both teams lost in the first round of the playoffs, the League Division Series.

One might put an asterisk by the name of Marc Rzepczynski in 2012, as “Scrabble” isn’t entirely new, having joined the team last July. His former partner, well-traveled J.C. Romero, was given his walking papers on Monday after just six weeks on the team. Romero was replaced by a right-hander, Eduardo Sanchez.

The only two years during which the two season-opening Cardinals lefties both had sub-3.00 ERAs was in 1996 and 2004. Steve Kline and Ray King were the relievers in the latter year, following Rick Honeycutt and Tony Fossas.

St. Louis Cardinals, season-opening left-handed relievers, 1996 to present

Year LH reliever G ERA LH reliever G ERA LH reliever G ERA
1996 Rick Honeycutt 61 2.85 Tony Fossas 65 2.68
1997 Lance Painter 14 4.76 Tony Fossas 71 3.83
1998 Lance Painter 65 3.99
1999 Lance Painter 56 4.83 Mike Mohler 48 4.38 Scott Radinsky 43 4.88
2000 Jesse Orosco 6 3.86 Mike Mohler 22 9.00
2001 Steve Kline 89 1.80 Mike Matthews 51 3.24 Jeff Tabaka (NRI) 8 7.36
2002 Steve Kline 66 3.39 Mike Matthews 43 3.89
2003 Steve Kline 78 3.82 Lance Painter (NRI) 22 5.50
2004 Steve Kline 67 1.79 Ray King 86 2.61
2005 Randy Flores 50 3.46 Ray King 77 3.38 Bill Pulsipher (NRI) 5 6.75
2006 Randy Flores 65 5.62 Ricardo Rincon 5 10.80
2007 Randy Flores 70 4.25 Tyler Johnson 55 4.03
2008 Randy Flores 43 5.26 Ron Villone (NRI) 74 4.68
2009 Trever Miller 70 2.06 Dennys Reyes 75 3.29
2010 Trever Miller 57 4.00 Dennys Reyes 59 3.55
2011 Trever Miller 39 4.02 Brian Tallet 18 8.31
2012 Marc Rzepczynzki 15 2.25 J.C. Romero 11 10.13

(Bolded names represent a returning pitcher for multiple opening days.)

Of course this list does not include the leagues of others who passed through the pen for short periods within a given season, such as Arthur Rhodes and Raul Valdes in 2011.

In the short-term, no clear left-handed pitching help is on the way for the 2012 club. There is quantity in Memphis, but Major League quality is an open question. Four left-handed relievers and one lefty starter compete at Triple-A, but none appear close to the bigs. The only one of the group already on the 40-man roster, Sam Freeman, has yet to make his Triple-A debut.

The others are starter Nick Additon and relievers Nick Greenwood, R.J. Swindle and Barret Browning. The latter two joined the organization as a minor league free agent and via the Triple-A phase of the 2011 Rule 5 Draft, respectively. (Remember, to see the entire Cardinals system on one page, check out the Roster Matrix, always up to date right here at The Cardinal Nation blog. )

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