Miller, Mujica put team first while awaiting opportunity
Cards pitchers not being used much in playoffs after playing big roles in regular season
ST. LOUIS -- Shelby Miller won 15 games in the regular season, and Edward Mujica saved 37. Miller was one of three members of the Opening Day starting rotation to finish the season there, and Mujica inherited the ninth-inning role in May, stabilizing the bullpen with a career year.
Their accomplishments were vital to the Cardinals advancing as far as they have, but now in the midst of the World Series, Miller and Mujica have been effectively shelved.
Miller started 31 games and won more than any rookie in the Majors this season, while Mujica made 65 relief appearances, posting a 1.73 ERA through the season's first five months. In October, on a team three wins away from its 12th World Series championship, they have combined to pitch just three frames, none with heightened stakes or with the game on the line.
"Absolutely, I wish I could pitch more, but at the same time, it's all about what's best for the team, and what we have going right now is really good," Miller said. "We're in the World Series, we're tied with Boston. It'd be hard to change things up now.
"I'd be lying to you if I didn't say I saw my postseason going differently. This is not how I saw it happening. But I'm happy for the guys, I'm happy to be part of this team and I'm soaking it all in."
Once the more experienced Lance Lynn limited his opponents to three earned runs over his final four regular-season starts and fellow rookie Michael Wacha came within an out of a no-hitter in his final outing, Miller became the odd man out of St. Louis' playoff rotation. With a bullpen operating at its best, the opportunities to ease Miller into a relief role have been limited.
"If something bad happens, I'm ready," Miller said. "But right now, hopefully all our starters do great, and you don't even see me."
Mujica's diminished role was a less abrupt transition. The 29-year-old righty squandered three of his final five save opportunities, and he was ousted as the Cards' closer.
"I had a rough September; I understand that," Mujica said. "When you have bad outings, somebody is going to pick you up. We've been doing a pretty good job lately."
Picking Mujica up is exactly what rookie Trevor Rosenthal did, converting all seven of his save opportunities since assuming the role on Sept. 23, but leaving little room for Mujica in the postseason.
Mujica admitted Friday to dealing with a mild groin strain since mid-September, which coincides with his late-season struggles. He said the injury was concentrated on his right side, his push-off leg, and it affected his delivery but has since healed with rest.
"My groin was bothering me, but I was trying to keep going, trying to help the team win. But you know, it [didn't] happen," Mujica said. "The first five months [of the season], it was an unbelievable [time] in my career. September, I had bad outings. Bad things are going to happen."
Now both Miller and Mujica are just trying to stay sharp and ready, despite the long layoff. Miller is throwing when he can, and he tossed live batting practice against Allen Craig earlier this week. Mujica has taken to an advisory role for rookies Carlos Martinez and Rosenthal, who have shined in their eighth- and ninth-inning roles, respectively.
"I'm just waiting for my turn in the bullpen. I don't know, the way we're playing right now, these guys have been throwing pretty good," Mujica said. "I don't [want to] say I don't want to pitch, but I'm going to pitch when we might be losing."
In 2011, Jake Westbrook faced a similar situation. He had just started 33 games, winning 12, in the regular season, but was forced to take a back seat in the postseason. Westbrook was left off the roster for the National League Division Series and the NL Championship Series.
"I was a little older than these guys were, but I understood it and these guys do, too," Westbrook said. "They know that they're still a part of this team and can help out at any moment. It's a huge team thing. You throw all that individual stuff out the window when it comes to this game."
Westbrook's patience eventually paid off, as he was activated for the World Series and made two relief appearances. He tossed a scoreless inning in Game 4, and another in Game 6, earning the win.
"My mindset was, 'I'm going to be ready to pitch and I want to help this team out any way I can,'" Westbrook said. "That's the way these guys are as well. You never know what their opportunity might be. They might come in and do the same thing. Anything can happen."
No matter if they directly impact this series on the field, Miller and Mujica are enjoying the ride. Neither was on the roster when the Cardinals won it all in 2011, so both are relishing their first taste of the Fall Classic.
"I'm just trying to enjoy the moment," Mujica said. "I know I've got a new role in the bullpen, but you know, I'm just trying to keep my mind ready to go for whatever situation."
"I'm sure that I would enjoy it more, obviously, if I was in there helping the team win, but right now, it's being a good cheerleader," Miller said. "You can't really take for granted any of this, because you never know when you're going to get back. It's a really, really slim opportunity that not a lot of guys get. That's why it's so special."
Chad Thornburg is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.