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Saturday, May 17, 2008

Cardinals are at wits' end with Reyes

MILWAUKEE — The Cardinals and Anthony Reyes are headed toward divorce. All that remains is whether the split will be amicable or contentious.

The reason should be obvious by now: Irreconcilable differences.

Reyes is again on tour with the Class AAA Memphis Redbirds. It's the fourth consecutive season Reyes has put in time at AutoZone Park, and at least the third of those years when questions about his viability as a starting pitcher for this franchise have festered.

This year, however, the club appears firmer than ever in its stance: If Reyes enjoys success as a major-league pitcher it will likely occur elsewhere.

Last Sunday's demotion of Reyes to Memphis exhausted the righthander's final option. The Cardinals can send him on the I-55 shuttle as often as they like this summer but next year must pass him through waivers and outright him off the 40-man roster in order to send him back down.

Manager Tony La Russa explained a bullpen crisis necessitated the May 4 move, which swapped Reyes for Mike Parisi. True, Reyes would not have been available to pitch behind starter Joel Pineiro if Pineiro experienced a recurrence of back spasms Monday night in Colorado. However, the larger truth is that Parisi proved more impressive to pitching coach Dave Duncan in spring training.

Reyes, it should be remembered, broke camp with the major-league club only at general manager John Mozeliak's insistence.

Duncan had earlier voiced skepticism about Reyes' fitness for relief because of the elaborate set of exercises the pitcher performs before throwing. La Russa said it is the front office's prerogative to influence the roster but it is the manager who dictates face time.

"When spring training broke, we were very excited about what he was showing out of the bullpen," Mozeliak said. "His performance started becoming more inconsistent. We wanted to give him regular work to get him back to where he once was."

When optioned, Reyes had made nine appearances in relief and saved a game. Irregular use eventually hurt a pitcher with five professional relief outings prior to this season.

Reyes is 23-10 with a 3.23 ERA in 62 career minor-league starts. He is 9-24 with a 5.40 ERA in 52 major-league appearances. The splits reflects Reyes' hot-and-cold career within an organization that gave him the ball in Game 1 of the 2006 World Series but rarely has trusted him since.

Reyes is most comfortable throwing a four-seam fastball while pitching up and away from contact. It is no secret Duncan prefers a two-seam approach, pitching down with a desire for ground balls early in counts.

When Reyes reclaimed several miles per hour on his fastball last month, closer Jason Isringhausen suggested he was better-suited for relief duty than starting. "He's got less things to think about," Isringhausen said.

There are those both inside and outside the Cardinals organization who believe Reyes is hindered by looking over his shoulder whenever he pitches. Reyes is not demonstrative. He is regarded as a diligent worker who has never shorted himself or the club. He also carries a stubborn streak and sometimes refers to his pitching style as "my way." Reyes has never challenged La Russa or Duncan. But friends perceive the constant shuffling, philosophical differences and shifting roles as eroding his trust.

Duncan speaks warily of "outside help" Reyes or his agent, Scott Boras, may have enlisted. Reyes noted his father's influence on him returning to a more natural pitching style last winter, but the club believes it sees pitching guru Tom House's fingerprints.

Reyes' availability for trade ranks as one of the game's worst-kept secrets, though Mozeliak insists he remains "hesitant" to finalize a deal given the rotation's uncertain depth as Mark Mulder and Matt Clement rehabilitate from shoulder surgeries.

Other clubs believe the point moot for now, since Mozeliak's asking price of at least one top prospect does not square with Reyes' value to the other 29 organizations.

"We have no interest in giving Anthony Reyes away," Mozeliak insisted during the team's last home stand.

The Cardinals now envision him as "insurance" should the current rotation experience a breakdown before Mulder (or Clement, or Chris Carpenter) returns. Other clubs, meanwhile, see a pitcher blocked by the Cardinals' current rotation, three injured starters and, at one point, Brad Thompson. If Parisi indeed enjoys higher standing, that makes Reyes the organization's No. 11 starter.

That doesn't sound like a pitcher with a future with his current club or a price tag that should command a windfall from another.

It does sound like a pitcher ready to become another organization's success or tease.

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