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Duncan steps aside, Lilliquist takes the reins

Posted Tuesday, January 10, 2012, at 3:40 PM


Yet another long-standing era in Cardinals history came to a close last week, sort of. Dave Duncan, who has been the Cardinals pitching coach for the past 15 seasons, informed the team that he would be gone for at least all of the 2012 season.

The absence comes as no surprise given his wife's battle with a brain tumor that has been an ongoing fight for the last year. The replacement doesn't come as much of a surprise either.

When Duncan had to take time off in 2011 to be with his wife, Derek Lilliquist took the reins and guided the team back into contention. Lilliquist, who joined the Cardinals organization in 2002, certainly has some big shoes to fill.

Duncan became somewhat of a legend among Cardinals fans who have for years credited him with the success of the pitching staff. His specialty is taking older pitchers, believed to be in the twilight of their career, and pulling a couple of extra years out of them. His ability to spot and correct flaws or cues in a pitchers delivery is almost unparalleled.

Duncan's one alleged weakness, however, involves his working with young pitchers. I'm not saying he's not good with them, but it's not his specialty. Over the next three to four years, the Cardinals are going to likely be seeing a lot of young pitching talent come up from a farm system busting at the seams with pitchers.

Lilliquist, thanks to his time coaching in the minor leagues, could be a good fit for the team this year. His role as bullpen coach has already earned him the respect of the big league staff and his time in the minors as well as at Spring Training has done the same thing for the up and comers.

The most memorable ( and ugly) moment in Lilliquist's coaching career is that he was the voice on the other end of the phone when Tony LaRussa called to the bullpen twice during the fifth game of the 2011 World Series. Dubbed "Bullpen-Gate" by the media, the incident was an embarrassment to the team and left many questioning LaRussa's continued abilities as a manager. Had the Cardinals lost the World Series, it would have been a much uglier scenario and likely remembered as the moment that ended the Cardinals season.

Thankfully, that's not the case and the incident is not typical of either Lilliquist or LaRussa. As much as everyone tried to read into what the incident "meant", it is entirely possible that the cause was exactly what LaRussa said: noise.

Lilliquist taking over as pitching coach also left his former role as bullpen coach vacant. In a Friday release, the team announced that it had decided to promote Minor League Pitching Coordinator Dyer Miller to the position.

Miller's promotion is another sign that the Cardinals are expecting to look at the younger farm talent in years to come. Miller knows and has worked with a number of the young pitchers in the organization and is quite knowledgeable of them all. He should be an asset in the Cardinals bullpen.

I know I've said this a bunch of times this winter, but the club is going to look very different once spring training (finally) rolls around. Duncan being gone is just another piece in this very interesting puzzle.

One thing to remember is that while the pitching coach is a crucial position, losing Duncan does not mean the end of good pitching in St. Louis as it would seem some believe. Losing Albert Pujols wasn't the end of offense. Losing Tony wasn't the end of the pitching change, however frequent.

The sun still comes up in the morning and the Cardinals will still win baseball games. Hang in there and be patient with the new staff members and players. No one can be expected to set the world ablaze on day one, but as we learned last year, you never know what can happen when springtime (or even fall) rolls around in St. Louis.

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Corey Noles, staff writer for The Daily Statesman and Editor of The North Stoddard Countian, is the author of a regular baseball/St. Louis Cardinals column and also uses his blog to sound off on various happenings in sports. He also operates a weekly baseball mailbag column.

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