Cardinals promote Cleto, Browning from Minors
Freeman, Sanchez optioned to Triple-A; McClellan transferred to 60-day DL
ST. LOUIS -- In an effort to find better late-inning stability, the Cardinals shuffled their bullpen before Saturday's game against the Pirates.
Right-hander Maikel Cleto and lefty Barret Browning were promoted from Triple-A Memphis, which will, in turn, add Sam Freeman and Eduardo Sanchez back to its roster. Freeman and Sanchez were optioned after enduring their share of struggles at the Major League level.
"We need to keep moving forward and make adjustments as we go," manager Mike Matheny said. "Just all in all, it was time to make a move."
The move was prompted by another collectively poor night from the Cardinals' bullpen, which, after allowing seven earned runs in a 14-5 loss on Friday, has an ERA of 4.67.
Sanchez gave up two of those runs on three hits in one inning. Command issues left Sanchez largely unreliable, particularly during recent weeks. Over his last 4 1/3 innings, Sanchez gave up seven hits and eight earned runs. He walked six.
"We've seen some good ones and we've really seen some struggles," Matheny said. "You have to be able to get more than one pitch over for a strike. We've seen spots of that. We just need to see it on a more consistent basis."
Freeman's problems weren't so pronounced, though he, too, endured a sometimes rocky learning curve. The Cardinals had expedited his climb to the Majors because of their need for a lefty reliever. In 12 innings, Freeman was charged with 10 hits, eight earned runs and seven walks.
Among the directives the Cards gave Freeman on his way out was to continue quickening his time to the plate while maintaining a consistent arm slot.
"I think it was a very productive stint for him," Matheny said. "I think every day he had here in the big leagues is something that's going to benefit in the long run."
Sanchez and Freeman were two of four relievers who had an ERA of at least 6.00 by the end of Friday's game. Also in that group are Fernando Salas (6.04) and Marc Rzepczynski (6.00), both of whom entered the season projected to hold key setup roles.
This marks Cleto's second stint with St. Louis this season. In four previous appearances, Cleto allowed three earned runs on nine hits in five innings. Since being sent back down to Memphis, Cleto -- who is ranked No. 10 among Cardinals prospects -- has limited opponents to one earned run and three hits in six innings.
Browning's first appearance with the Cardinals will also be his Major League debut. Taken in the Minor League portion of last December's Rule 5 Draft, Browning has a 1.89 ERA in 30 appearances for Memphis. He has kept opponents to a .192 batting average.
The Cardinals transferred injured reliever Kyle McClellan to the 60-day disabled list to open up a spot on the 40-man roster for Browning. McClellan, who has been on the 15-day DL since May 18 with a right elbow strain, is not expected to return until August.
Browning perfect in Major League debut
ST. LOUIS -- The summons came on Friday night, as Barret Browning was making his bed in preparation for an overnight bus ride from Memphis to Oklahoma City. He was told the manager needed to have a chat.
Browning returned to the clubhouse, where Triple-A manager Ron "Pop" Warner informed the lefty reliever that he would be unable to participate in the upcoming Pacific Coast League All-Star Game, to which Browning had just been invited. There had been a change in plans, Warner continued, and Browning was needed in St. Louis.
Browning arrived in St. Louis less than 12 hours later, after he and reliever Maikel Cleto hitched a ride with Memphis general manager Ben Weiss. It was the only way the pitchers would make it to St. Louis in time for Saturday's game.
Both were added to the Cardinals' 25-man roster, and both were called upon in Saturday's game.
"That [All-Star Game] was something I was looking very much forward to," Browning said. "I would have been completely happy going and doing that, but this is 10 times better."
Browning's debut could not have gone better. He retired all six batters he faced and allowed just one ball to leave the infield. Five family members made it to Busch Stadium in time to be in attendance, and the crowd recognized Browning's efforts with an extended applause when he walked off the mound in the seventh.
"When I was warming up, I wasn't nervous," Browning said. "When I came in, I wasn't nervous. When I got about 20 feet from the infield, my legs started getting a little wobbly. But it's just one of those things -- you try and forget about it and focus on what you've got to do.
"My stuff wasn't as sharp as I'd like it to be, but it's hard to complain about the results."
The Cardinals' search for steady left-handed relief led the organization to Browning, who has had a standout year in his first season as a member of the organization. He was selected from the Angels in the Minor League portion of the Rule 5 Draft last December. Browning had been in the Angels' system for six seasons.
"I learned a lot when I was with the Angels' organization, but I think after six years of being there, I was spinning my wheels a little bit and got to the point where I wasn't really sure what their interest in me was any more," Browning said. "Coming over here was a fresh opportunity, a fresh start. It was able to rejuvenate me a little bit and start fresh. I hit the ground with no expectations but to prove to myself and to the organization that I actually can be a benefit to a Major League team."
Though the Cards' bullpen depth has already been tested extensively, Browning earned this opportunity. The 27-year-old had a 1.89 ERA in 30 appearances with Memphis. He struck out 36 in 38 innings and limited opponents to a .192 batting average.
Browning is one of two lefties available in the 'pen. He will likely continue to draw middle-inning assignments, at least until he gets a little more experience at this level.
Matheny backs use of metrics in defensive shifts
ST. LOUIS -- A night after the Cardinals' defensive shifts were exposed in a game-changing fifth inning, manager Mike Matheny defended the continued use of defensive metrics to dictate alignments against particular batters.
"I'd say for the most part, I really like what we've been doing and we have data that supports it," Matheny said. "It gets overlooked when the play is made. But when a six-hopper jumps through, the world is coming to an end."
On Friday, two ground balls that normally would have been routine outs turned to singles because of an infield shift. That eventually led to a three-run Pittsburgh inning to tie the game.
Matheny -- while acknowledging that shifts hurt the team on Friday, as well as during a May series in Atlanta -- used Saturday's conversation to also point out times in which shifts worked. The club, he noted, benefited from the strategy in the team's previous two series.
"Guys are extremely excited when it works and extremely frustrated when it doesn't," Matheny said.
Dissecting the spray charts of opposing hitters is only part of the equation. Of near equal importance is the pitchers' willingness to buy into sometimes unique defensive positioning. The success of shifts is often in large part due to a pitcher's ability to locate pitches over a part of the a plate, where hitters are more likely to drive them particular directions.
The oppressive temperatures and the quick night game-to-day game turnaround prompted Matheny to sit shortstop Rafael Furcal and catcher Yadier Molina on Saturday. Both are expected to return to the lineup for Sunday's series finale.
The addition of Browning gives the Cards four Georgians on the 25-man roster. But Browning's connection is especially unique with Adam Wainwright. The two grew up in the same area and competed against each other in two high school seasons. Wainwright pitched for Glynn Academy, while Browning attended Wayne County High School.
As he talked about his path to the Majors on Saturday, Browning credited Wainwright for helping open the door.
"He probably had no idea who I was at the time, but everybody knew who he was," Browning said. "Him and [Blue Jays pitcher] Dustin McGowan came through at the same time. If it wasn't for those two guys, there's a good chance I'm not standing here today. Those guys drew a lot of attention to our area. There wasn't a whole lot of attention given to that part of the state at the time.
"Those guys were just huge in getting that part of the state some recognition. Here I am now, sharing the same locker room with [Wainwright]. It's truly a blessing."
Friday's first-pitch temperature of 101 degrees marked the hottest start time at Busch Stadium since an Aug. 2, 2006, home game also began with the temperature at 101. Saturday's announced temperature at game time was 99 degrees at 1:17 p.m. CT.
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, By Gosh, It's Langosch, and follow her on Twitter @LangoschMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.