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In a former lifetime, Mitchell Boggs was once closing games for the St. Louis Cardinals.

Alright, so it was just five months ago.

But it must feel like a lifetime ago for Boggs, who has since been moved out of that closer role - and for a brief time out of the major league bullpen altogether - and into a role that is, in a word, undefined.

On paper it looks as though Boggs is a serviceable member of a major league bullpen. Through 57 innings this season, Boggs has a 3.63 ERA and a 3.43 FIP. In a bullpen that has housed the likes of Miguel Batista, Ryan Franklin and Brian Tallet - among others - in 2011 and under a manager who utilizes bullpen matchups to a fault, Boggs should seem to have little trouble finding his way into games.

But Boggs has been more cheerleader than anything as of late. The right-handed reliever hasn't pitched since September 3, an invisible member of a bullpen that hasn't been lights-out in recent weeks.

Boggs admitted it's been a trying and sometimes confusing year.

"It's definitely been a year to learn a lot about myself," Boggs said in a mid-August interview. "I've been put through some unique situations and had to deal with some things that I didn't really expect I'd have to deal with when the year started, but it's part of the game. I'm proud of the way I've handled myself, proud of the way I've continued to work and try to get better and go out there and compete. It's definitely been a unique year, but I think it's a year that's going to make me better down the road."

He's certainly learned to deal with adversity. On May 23, Boggs, a starter-turned-reliever at the major league level, was optioned to AAA Memphis with the understanding that he would be converted back into a starter. Less than three weeks later, Boggs was recalled but returned to middle relief.

The bullpen, Boggs' home for the past two seasons, has offered little comfort to Boggs, though. Boggs has had at least four days rest between outings - similar to the time between starts for members of the rotation - six times since the beginning of July. The same pitcher who made 12 appearances in April has made the same number since August 1.

As to whether all the changing has made Boggs a better pitcher, the fourth-year pitcher said that is still to be determined.

"We'll see," Boggs said. "Time will tell. I certainly feel like I have an opportunity to be pretty good. And this year is a year that, like I said, I learned a lot about myself. [I've been] put through some things that were tough for me, but at the same time I've competed and tried to go out there and do my best. And that's what I'll continue to do."

An easy explanation for his sporadic use lately is simply a lack of effectiveness. Since his fourth and last save of the season, a five-outer against Houston on July 25, Boggs has a 5.50 ERA with a 1.94 WHIP. Opponents are hitting .346 with a .907 OPS in that time, and Boggs has given up at least one hit in each of those 13 outings. Excessive time between appearances may be to blame for poor pitching, but the reverse may be true as well.

"That's part of the game," Boggs said. "That's basically what my role is, to do whatever they need me to do. Whether that's eat innings or pitch late in the game or middle of the game, that's pretty much what I've done. I've bounced around a lot, and that's just part of it. You've got to get used to it and got to go out there and do your job. And that's what I've tried to do."

The disconnect between Boggs and manager Tony La Russa leaves Boggs' status for next season in question. If La Russa returns, as it seems likely he will, Boggs may not. It's something Boggs said he will concern himself with when the time comes.

"I'm not worried about next year," Boggs said. "A lot of things can happen between then and now. I'm just trying to continue to do my job, go out there and pitch the best I can and try to finish this year strong."

-NtG

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