Miguel Socolovich threw in just two MLB games in 2016 before coming up to the show for good near the end of August. When all was said and done, he'd thrown just 18 innings across 15 games. However, he made the most of his limited exposure and allowed just five runs (four earned) in that time. He was virtually unhittable against righties, who went just 2-for-36 and drew only two walks with Socolovich on the mound. This wasn't the first time that he's shown the club he can compete in the majors, and his latest string of games brought his career ERA and WHIP down to 2.95 and 1.08, respectively. Socolocovich will be 30 years old when the 2017 campaign begins, so it would appear that the window to bring him up from Triple-A Memphis for an extended/permanent stay is closing.
Socolovich will open the season in the Cardinals' bullpen, MLB.com's Jenifer Langosch reports. This was well earned by the 30-year-old righty, as he has a career 2.95 ERA over 64 innings in the majors and has pitched well this spring. He will work primarily in the middle innings.
Socolovich, who owns a 4.00 ERA over nine spring innings, sees command of his fastball as a pivotal part of winning a roster spot, Jenifer Langosch of MLB.com reports. "If I throw more fastballs for strikes, it's going to make my changeup and my slider better," Socolovich said. "They're not going to be able to be ready for just one pitch. They're going to have to be ready for three. I want to prove that I can throw my fastball for a strike and locate it, too." Socolovich owns a 1.89 ERA, .175 BAA, 0.94 WHIP and 8.1 K/9 since debuting with the Cardinals in 2015, with the first two figures tops among any reliever on the team with a minimum of 18 innings pitched over that span. That said, he's still fighting for the final bullpen spot, with the fact that he's out of minor league options potentially giving him a slight leg up. The team has encouraged Socolovich to throw his fastball with greater regularity and he's followed suit, firing it with 12 percent greater frequency in 2016 as compared to the prior season. The pitch was key in helping get off to a strong start this spring, and despite some struggles over his last three innings, he retains the confidence of manager Mike Matheny. "He's been terrific," Matheny said. "He's got a good enough fastball to come at anybody, and that will make his secondary pitches better. He was a hard thrower even before we got him. [We're] just making sure he knows he can trust the fact that that should be a good pitch."
Socolovich struck out two of the three batters he faced in a clean ninth inning against the Nationals on Friday. The 30-year-old righty continues to shine this spring, as he's now given up just one earned run on one hit and one walk over five innings while fanning four. After a long minor league career, Socolovich has thrived in his brief major league opportunities. Over 15 appearances last season, he surrendered four earned runs on five hits and five walks, generating a 2.00 ERA and 0.56 WHIP over 18 innings. Given the strong case he's made so far, he could well be a part of the relief corps to start the 2017 campaign.
Socolovich was demoted to Triple-A Memphis on Sunday. The Cardinals were in need of a spot on the 25-man roster for Sunday's starter, Mike Mayers, and Socolovich appears to be the odd man out. Given that it's a spot start for Mayers, it's quite possible Socolovich's trip to the minors will be a short one.
The Cardinals optioned Socolovich to Triple-A Memphis on Sunday. Socolovich was afforded six appearances with the big club this spring, giving up three runs (two earned) on five hits and one walk to go with six strikeouts in seven innings. While he'll once again act as organizational bullpen depth to start the season, expect the 29-year-old righty to be one of the first called upon if injury or subpar play plague one of the relievers in the Cardinals' pen.