NEW YORK • After four days of waiting and more waiting in Washington for a debut that didn’t happen, Cardinals reliever Eric Fornataro saw Monday the anticipation he had been trying to ignore replaced with something else entirely.
This is his chance.
The Cardinals had to demote one of two relievers Monday to make room for starter Tyler Lyons, and try as he might to ignore the news or the numbers game Fornataro and Jorge Rondon knew the move would be one of them. The Cardinals kept Fornataro.
“After that happened, I feel like it’s my opportunity to lose now,” said the righty Tuesday. “I have to go out there and get quick outs. Whatever the situation I’m in that’s my only goal — get outs as quick as possible.”
Fornataro, 26, made his big-league debut Monday night with a scoreless eighth inning in a two-run ballgame at Citi Field. The assignment was a test as much as a debut. Fornataro retired all three Mets he faced, including the final two by groundouts. With no roster crunch on the horizon, those are the numbers that matter.
The Cardinals have been seeking that final righty for the bullpen since spring training. On the final day of the exhibition schedule the Cardinals chose Keith Butler from a trio of finalists that also included David Aardsma and Rondon. Fornataro, returned to Class AAA Memphis earlier in spring, emerged through the season by taking over as closer for the Redbirds. He earned the promotion to the majors — and the right to stay when Lyons arrived — with five scoreless innings and a save for Triple-A Memphis.
“It just didn’t look like he was ready quite yet,” Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said of spring training. “It really wasn’t being translated into his opportunity in the games in spring training. He needed to go to work. … The stuff (he has) can be overpowering and electric but if you’re not in the zone, it’s not going to play here. He’s learning some lessons real quick.”
What the Cardinals instructed Fornataro to do upon his return to the minors was rethink how and when he uses his power. Fornataro is one of the high-velocity righties the Cardinals have developed, and at Class AA a couple years ago he heaved his way onto the 40-man roster. He said he “wouldn’t even look, just throw hard.” The major-league staff wanted him to rely more on his sinker than his raw power. They urged to him target the middle of the plate and let the pitch’s natural run find the edges.
“I don’t know if that was a wakeup call to him,” Matheny said.