ST. LOUIS—The sudden absence of Zach Duke from the Cardinals’ bullpen in 2017 means more opportunity—and more scrutiny—for a handful of lefthanders previously without a clear hold in the organization.
The team announced several weeks after its season ended that Duke had elbow and forearm surgery that will force him to spend much of the 2017 season, the last one on his contract, rehabbing.
Duke, acquired in August when St. Louis traded outfielder Charlie Tilson to the White Sox, was set to be the team’s second lefty out of the bullpen, the one used earlier in the game to free up Kevin Siegrist for later assignments. Duke’s departure leaves the Cardinals considering other options.
Their eyes look to the desert.
Two lefties who took significant and needed strides in 2016 are pitching in the Arizona Fall League: Corey Littrell, 24, and Ryan Sherriff, 26. General manager John Mozeliak described both as candidates the team would have to consider, either out of spring or possibly later in the season.
Littrell, a 2013 fifth-round pick from Kentucky, is the remaining spoil from the Allen Craig-John Lackey deal with the Red Sox in 2014. He has been a revelation in relief. He went 2-4, 3.90 in 53 appearances this season, recording 49 strikeouts in 51.1 innings at Triple-A Memphis. His velocity jumped, and he held lefties to a .177 average.
Sherriff, a 28th-round pick in 2011 from Glendale (Calif.) JC, had a breakout season at Memphis, where he struck out 55 and walked 23 in 66.2 innings, and he rode a singular approach to success. He throws a sinker. A lot.
Both Littrell and Sherriff must be added to the 40-man roster to be protected from the Rule 5 draft, and the Cardinals will use the AFL as a test for that decision.
• To begin clearing room on the 40-man roster for a busy offseason, the Cardinals loosed catchers Alberto Rosario and Mike Ohlman and righthander Mitch Harris. Harris spent the entire 2016 season recovering from elbow surgery.
• The Cardinals need room on the 40-man roster because of the number of prospects they need to add to the roster to shield from the Rule 5 draft. Among the eligible players are outfielder Magneuris Sierra, second baseman Eliezer Alvarez and shortstops Edmundo Sosa and Allen Cordoba. None has much experience above low Class A.