(AP) — Shelby Miller is a big reason why St. Louis Cardinals starters own the best ERA in baseball.
The rookie will look to gain a measure of revenge against the only team to ever beat him Sunday when the Cardinals and visiting Pittsburgh Pirates complete this three-game set.
St. Louis starters have a 2.06 ERA, with the entire rotation allowing two earned runs over 33 2-3 innings in the last five games. Jake Westbrook completed that run with six scoreless innings Saturday, but the Cardinals’ bullpen couldn’t hold a two-run lead in a 5-3 defeat that ended a four-game win streak.
“Any time you lose a game in the last third, it can be extremely frustrating,” manager Mike Matheny said. “When the starter gives you a great chance like that, you hate to see it slip away.”
Now it’s Miller’s turn to help St. Louis (14-9) bounce back. He’s struck out 19 and yielded three hits over 15 career scoreless innings at home, and yielded two unearned runs over 6 2-3 innings Monday to earn a 3-2 victory at Washington his last time out.
“He’s got a different look than the majority of the guys we have on our staff, and a lot of other guys in the league,” Matheny said. “He’s keeping people off balance with that.”
Pittsburgh (14-10) has the advantage of seeing Miller (3-1, 1.44 ERA) before. The right-hander allowed two runs over six innings April 17 in a 5-0 road loss to the Pirates.
Neil Walker went 2 for 3 against Miller in that contest, but the second baseman is out with a hand injury. Right fielder Travis Snider is day to day after being scratched Saturday with discomfort on his left side.
The Pirates scored one run through their first 15 innings in this series before using a four-run rally in the seventh Saturday in their fourth win in five games. Russell Martin hit a two-run homer in that frame and scored Pittsburgh’s final run in the eighth on Gaby Sanchez’s sacrifice fly.
Outfielder Jose Tabata has hit safely in 20 of his 22 career games at Busch Stadium, batting .308 in those contests with hits in the last seven.
The Cardinals look to improve to 5-1 when opponents start left-handers as they face Jeff Locke (2-1, 3.74) for the first time. Locke enters off his best 2013 effort, yielding two hits over six innings Tuesday to gain a 2-0 victory at Philadelphia.
“The big thing is I was able to get ahead, something I’ve stressed the last few starts,” said Locke, who was the Pirates’ Minor League pitcher of the year in 2012. “It’s great to compete and get through it and know that you can do it.”
He’ll face challenges against Yadier Molina, who is hitting .438 against left-handers, and Allen Craig, who is batting .389 against southpaws and is a career .358 hitter versus Pittsburgh.
David Freese, who is hitting .190, will likely return to the Cardinals lineup. Matheny rested the third baseman Saturday, saying that Freese was pressing.