By Jose M. Romero/@RomeroJoseM
For Fox Deportes
Fernando Salas saved 24 games for the St. Louis Cardinals last season, helping his team make it to the postseason.
The right-handed reliever from Huatabampo, Mexico was solid in the NL Division and Championship series, but struggled in the World Series. The Cardinals won it all, but perhaps Salas’ control issues were a sign of things to come in 2012.
Salas was sent down to Class AAA Memphis on Saturday. He was never able to drop his earned run average below 4.50 after his first appearance of the season on April 4, and didn’t pitch for five days between May 19 and 23.
On May 18 in Los Angeles, Salas got the loss when he walked in the winning run in the bottom of the ninth inning, his third walk of the inning against the Dodgers. Then on May 24, he surrendered two runs on four hits in an inning as the Philadelphia Phillies defeated St. Louis 10-9.
No longer the Cards’ closer and now a middle reliever, Salas will have to work his way back to the big leagues. But doing that will likely be less of a challenge than what it took to get into organized American baseball for the 26-year-old.
The Cardinals discovered Salas in the Mexican League in 2006 and purchased his contract in 2007.
Salas spent four seasons in the Cardinals’ farm system and opened 2011 in Memphis, but was brought up within a week of the start of the season.
“You know that all the players in Mexico want to play here in the U.S.,” Salas said. “Thank God I got better and the organization helped develop me a lot, and I was able to do good work and little by little move up to the majors.”
Salas was a reliever in Mexico and throughout his minor-league career, and in 2010 became the closer for Memphis. He came to the Cardinals the next year as a closer.
Earlier this month he said he’d was willing to help in any way that would allow him to stay with the big-league club, having been moved out of the save specialist role. But the Cardinals decided Salas needed to fine-tune some things.
Salas didn’t grow up watching a lot of American baseball, but remembers the Arizona Diamondbacks’ championship run in 2001. He followed the D-backs from just south of the border in the neighboring Mexican state of Sonora and the Boston Red Sox of 2004.
A lot of northern Mexico is more into baseball than soccer, so Salas was around the game a lot. He opened the season as one of two Mexican pitchers on the Cardinals roster.
“Stay up in the big leagues and keep on working hard,” Salas said of his goals. He’ll have to make good on one to get back to the other.