Saturday, September 06, 2008

Dave Duncan Tries Four-Man Rotation for Cardinals

Ever the iconoclast, Cardinals manager Tony La Russa has signed off on pitching coach Dave Duncan's use of a four-man, starting rotation as the season winds down.

Though a rising undertone throughout professional baseball has questioned the effectiveness of the five-man rotation, La Russa gave no indication that his innovation was anything other than a temporary measure to take advantage of schedule anomalies benefiting the team's best four starters: Adam Wainwright, Todd Wellemeyer, Braden Looper and Kyle Lohse.

But with La Russa having already instituted the revolutionary use of pitchers hitting in the No. 8 spot in the batting order, he might be as likely as any to try new ideas. It is the second time in three weeks that Duncan has trotted out the four-man schedule.

No. 5 starter Joel Piniero is the odd man out, with just one start in a month's time.

Speculation recently surfaced that Rangers President Nolan Ryan -- upon giving systemwide orders that all his pitchers attempt to pitch at least one inning deeper into games -- might be staging a return to the four-man scheme in use when Ryan and other starters commonly pitched 250-300 innings a season rather than the 200-inning limit targeted for today's hurlers.

The 200-inning target was adopted to prevent arm troubles, but some observers have complained that the switch has resulted in more injuries, rather than fewer.

Duncan has been widely credited with engineering the successful comebacks by Lohse and Piniero, the return of Chris Carpenter from the disabled list, plus the conversion from relievers to starters by Wainwright, Wellemeyer and Looper. The team has opened contract negotiations to assure that Duncan returns next year.

Duncan has been with La Russa for 25 years.