Dealing with adversity – Motte’s time is now

I took the night off in terms of writing about the St. Louis Cardinals’ disappointing 2009 Opening Day. I may be alone as talk radio, message board and blogger second-guessers are all over the revamped bullpen and sort-of, but not ordained closer Jason Motte.

Though it seems unnecessary, I will recap Monday’s events for context and completeness.

Given his first save situation in the initial game of the regular season, Motte failed, surrendering four hits, including three doubles and hitting another batter. The big blow was a bases-clearing two-base hit that came on an 0-2 pitch to Pittsburgh shortstop Jack Wilson.

The Cardinals’ two-run lead quickly turned into a two-run deficit in the top of the ninth. The game ended in a frustrating 6-4 home defeat to the Pirates.

Actually, there were two blown save opportunities on Monday as earlier, veteran left-hander Trever Miller yielded a two-run, game-tying single to Bucs outfielder Nyjer Morgan in the sixth inning.

In all fairness, Cardinals fans have reason to be wary. Last season’s relief crew blew as many saves, 31, as any other club and added 31 losses. Yet this is a different group of players and shouldn’t be prematurely judged by what the 2008 pen did, or didn’t do.

The former catcher Motte is among the new additions since the start of 2008. He had a strong big league introduction in September and a dominating spring, but he is still a 26-year-old rookie with just 13 major league appearances who has been pitching for less than three years.

Chris Perez, who earned seven saves for the Cardinals last season, lost a couple of weeks of spring training due to shoulder soreness and didn’t make the club, at least initially. The 23-year-old must be dying to get on the mound for a Triple-A Memphis club that does not open the season until Thursday.

As I have said all along, when adversity hits is the time to start to make judgments about Motte, though I honestly didn’t think it would happen this quickly – in game one.

I studied the post-game comments by Tony La Russa, who appeared to be very careful in choosing his appropriately non-committal words and was actually fairly civil considering the tough defeat.

More importantly, I watched and listened to Motte. From all impressions, he seemed to carry himself in a proper manner. He was disappointed, but not despondent. He seemed to clearly understand what happened.

“I didn’t get it up and out enough,” Motte said after the game. “I got behind guys in potential fastball counts, and they’re a good fastball-hitting team.”

The real questions that should be asked are around what will happen next. The specific answers to each will likely not be obvious to any of us – only the downstream results will.

  • What happened when Motte sat down with pitching coach Dave Duncan to discuss what transpired and what needs to be done?
  • Did Motte take the information and how will he use it?
  • Can Motte find a way to beat good fastball-hitting teams? In other words, can his slider become more than a “show me” offering?
  • If a save opportunity presents itself on Tuesday or Wednesday, will Ryan Franklin get the call?
  • If so, will Motte understand why and deal with it appropriately?
  • And the most important question of all, how will Motte perform his next time out, and the next one after that?

Time will tell.