Ryan Franklin released by Cardinals
BY JOE STRAUSS
For several long moments following Tuesday night's 6-2 win over the Baltimore Orioles Ryan Franklin walked the clubhouse with an ice pack strapped to his right shoulder.
Franklin, 38, had performed the ritual hundreds of times before. But this time he wore them over his uniform, as if sensing when he took it off he might never again put it on.
If that was indeed Franklin's premonition, it came true Wednesday afternoon when the club gave its tortured former closer his unconditional release.
On the doorstep of the season's midpoint, the Cardinals severed ties with a pitcher who signed as a 2007 spring training dumpster dive, ascended to an All-Star closer in 2009 then converted 27 of 29 save chances in 2010.
General manager John Mozeliak notified Franklin of the team's decision Wednesday afternoon after meeting at Camden Yards with manager Tony La Russa and pitching coach Dave Duncan. La Russa later spoke by phone for about "7 or 8 minutes" with Franklin. Mozeliak and La Russa described the pitcher's reaction to the news as "relief."
"He agrees getting away from it is something he hasn't done yet and is reasonable and makes sense," La Russa said.
"We can speculate all we want but the fact is the game is based on performance. That was not there any longer," Mozeliak said. "He was part of a lot of success in this organization. I think it started to frustrate him not to have that success any longer."
The Cardinals actually retained an option on Franklin that they could have exercised with his option. However, Franklin indicated little appetite for going to the minor leagues to rediscover form that had eluded him for three months.
"Ultimately it would have been take an assignment down to Memphis," Mozeliak said. "That doesn't address the part of him just wanting to get away and help himself. The only option we were left with was to release him."
Franklin caught a flight for his Oklahoma home Wednesday and could not be reached for comment.
Though several teammates knew of Franklin's release when they reached the park Wednesday, Mozeliak and La Russa told players of the move during a clubhouse meeting before batting practice.
In parts of four seasons as closer Franklin converted 84 saves, fifth most in franchise history. He inherited the role in 2008 from Cardinals all-time saves leader Jason Isringhausen, who experienced equally harsh criticism from a fan base that ultimately turned on Franklin
"A lot of times on the negative side what you did last overwhelms what you did earlier," La Russa said. "And that would be a shame in Ryan's case, because he's been outstanding for us."
Franklin's season began poorly and never rebounded. After suffering an Opening Day blown save against the San Diego Padres, he lost the closer's role before May. The club eventually sequestered him during home games and labored to find opportunities for him to rediscover confidence in lower-leverage situations such as Tuesday night. Few attempts met with success.
Franklin was 1-4 with one save and an 8.46 ERA in 21 appearances. After amassing a 3.04 ERA in 264 appearances in his first four seasons with the club, Franklin allowed runs in all but five outings this year.
Perhaps sensing his vulnerability, Franklin dropped his Twitter account during spring training. He later shaved his trademark red goatee and withdrew from a spokesman's role.
Duncan noticed an ebb in Franklin's confidence during the team's first road trip this season, which included blown saves on consecutive nights in San Francisco and a dropped chance in Los Angeles.
Eventually, Mitchell Boggs, rookie Eduardo Sanchez and Fernando Salas assumed the closer role.
Opponents battered Franklin for a .367 average (compared to .220 and .230 the previous two seasons) and reached him for nine home runs in 27 1/3 innings. The last became a kill shot.
La Russa and Duncan had hoped bringing Franklin into the eighth inning of a 6-0 game might offer a positive platform. Instead, Orioles shortstop J.J. Hardy smoked a one-out home run before right fielder Nick Markakis singled and center fielder Adam Jones lined a RBI double. When La Russa reached the mound to replace Franklin for the final time as a Cardinal, the pitcher became emotional and remained visibly upset in the dugout.
La Russa suggested afterward that the club would seek a "creative" way to deal with Franklin's situation. Mozeliak indicated that the club might pursue placing Franklin on the disabled list.
Alternatives seemed fewer Wednesday. La Russa said on Tuesday night that Franklin was physically sound and Mozelak insisted the club would not abuse the disabled list by suggesting a phantom injury.
"The problem with the DL is he's not hurt," La Russa said. "I know that's gotten stretched over the years by teams. But there's an integrity thing there the Cardinals have never gone for."
Mozeliak did not indicate whom the club would promote except to say it would be a pitcher not currently found on the 40-man roster.
Because Maikel Cleto and Brian Augenstein had been optioned in the last seven days, they are prohibited from returning to the parent club in the absence of an injury.
It is believed righthander Brandon Dickson will join the team today and move into a long relief role.
Wednesday's move does not necessarily end Franklin's career. The Cardinals owe him the balance of his $3.25 million salary and Mozeliak would not rule out the possibility that he might one day attempt to resuscitate his career. However, that day is not near.
"He was someone who really loved pitching for the Cardinals," Mozeliak said, adding, "He put the organization first and everything else second."
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