02/26/12 6:00 PM EST
Boggs ready to become impact reliever
By Jenifer Langosch / MLB.com
On a pitching staff dripping with accolades, Boggs has, as baseball talent evaluators see it, arguably as much talent, as much potential as anyone taking the mound in the Cardinals' Spring Training complex these days. Maximizing that ability in order to discover sustained success, however, has been a much trickier proposition.
As Boggs pitches for a spot in the Cardinals' bullpen this spring, he does so with the intent of taking the next step forward. There's a specific action behind this attempt, too. He'll spend much of the next six weeks zoned in on improving a pair of pitches that, when mixed with his fastball, could push Boggs closer to making himself an indispensable piece in the bullpen.
"I do feel like I have something to prove," Boggs said. "I feel like I'm talented. I feel like I have the ability. If I can just pitch to that ability and those talents, the rest will take care of itself."
Boggs and pitching coach Derek Lilliquist agreed that Boggs' slider needed to be a priority pitch this spring. In the past, troubles with the pitch have often been the result of an inconsistent arm slot. Having more trust in the spin and his grip, Boggs said, has already begun to alleviate some of that inconsistency.
Then there's the changeup, a pitch Boggs has nearly retired since making the starter-to-reliever transition. While the changeup won't be a primary pitch for Boggs as long as he continues to pitch out of the bullpen, it is one that, moving forward, he intends to use with more regularity.
The reviews on the changeup, which Boggs has been throwing during his spring side sessions, have so far been encouraging.
"From what we've seen to this point, [the changeup] has been very nice," Lilliquist said. "[It's] very much an upgrade from last year."
Perhaps it is mentality, though, that is the biggest obstacle standing between Boggs and a breakout season. He has been bounced around in different roles, making it tough to settle into a long-term routine. That was the case as recently as last season when, after beginning the year in the Cardinals' bullpen and even briefly moving into the closer's role, Boggs was sent to the Minors to be a starter.
Less than three weeks later, he returned to the big league club, again finding himself used solely in relief.
"I think if I can pitch myself into a consistent role, that would benefit me," Boggs said. "But I have to go out and prove that I deserve that opportunity. Last year was a year that I bounced around and did almost everything, so it was hard to get into that consistent groove."
He admits now, too, that last year's mid-season demotion shook him up -- though perhaps for the better.
Boggs went down to Triple-A on May 23, after allowing five earned runs in a string of six appearances. The demotion was particularly unsettling given that Boggs had not been a Minor League pitcher since 2009.
"I look back on it and I'm proud of the way that I went and pitched down there," Boggs said. "I worked hard down there. I did the things that they asked me to do. But at the same time, it was hard. It's not something that I wanted to have happen. But maybe it was something I needed to have happen. I learned a lot about myself. I was proud of the way I handled it. I think it'll make me a better pitcher."
Boggs returned from that 18-day demotion and finished the year with a 3.51 ERA in 33 appearances. It wasn't dominance, but it was respectable.
Still, the consensus is that the 28-year-old right-hander has even more to offer.
"He definitely wants to prove that he's better than a guy that has to be sent down [to the Minors] and has to go through some tough lessons," manager Mike Matheny said. "You look at his stuff and the stuff that he sees and we see shouldn't get hit like it does. A lot of it is just putting constant affirmation into him that we believe in what he's got and try to make the small adjustments."
It's not far-fetched to project Boggs as pitching his way into a late-inning setup role as soon as this season. His potential is that high, his ability that unique. That's something that even a few seasons of average results in the Majors can't shake.
"I want to take advantage of what I learned last year," Boggs said. "I really think I can take a step forward and be a guy that can help and make an impact."
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, By Gosh, It's Langosch, and follow her on Twitter @LangoschMLB This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.