Cardinals bullpen is on the spot coming off a couple of tough losses

WASHINGTON — The St. Louis Cardinals will be looking to put their bullpen issues behind them Tuesday night when they meet the Washington Nationals in the second of three games.

Labor Day proved a wasted effort for the Cardinals, who led 3-1 in the ninth inning before Bryce Harper tied it with a two-run bomb to center off closer Bud Norris. Harper, who continues to battle a cough, struck again with a walk-off sacrifice fly in the 10th as Washington posted its second comeback win in three days.

“It seems like the bigger the situation, the better he is, for whatever reason. But I think that’s what makes the good ones great,” Nationals reliever Greg Holland, who threw two scoreless innings, told the Washington Post about Harper. “He just has that uncanny ability to make a play when it’s needed the most.”

Norris took the loss Sunday when he allowed three runs on two homers in the 10th inning against the Cincinnati Reds. On Monday, he picked up his fifth blown save — and first since Aug. 13 — when Harper took him deep.

“It’s a question I don’t think I can answer right at this moment,” Cardinals manager Mike Shildt told FOX Sports Midwest about Norris and the closer role going forward. “He’s had a tough couple of days. We’ll keep evaluating what we have. Tomorrow he’ll be down, likely. And we’ll go from there.”

St. Louis (79-62) sits 5 1/2 games behind the Chicago Cubs in the NL Central and holds the second NL wild card.

Washington (69-69), which rallied late Saturday night to defeat the Brewers, hasn’t been able to string together wins but refuses to go completely away. Sunday’s heroics left them 7 1/2 games behind the Atlanta Braves in the NL East.

The Cardinals had planned to start right-hander Miles Mikolas but switched Monday morning to right-hander John Gant, who is 6-5 with a 3.34 ERA this season.

Gant, 26, has been on a roll over his last five starts, winning three, losing one and taking a no-decision in a game at Colorado in which he allowed only three hits and one run (a solo homer) over seven innings. He has a 1.59 ERA during that stretch.

Gant beat the Nationals at home Aug. 14, allowing just one run on four hits and no walks over 5 1/3 innings. He struck out six batters in a 6-4 St. Louis win that became close only when the bullpen allowed three runs in the eighth inning.

The Cardinals will face Nationals right-hander Erick Fedde (1-3, 5.79), who will come off the disabled list to pitch Tuesday.

Fedde left his July 4 start against Boston with shoulder inflammation. In three minor league rehab starts, he gave up four runs in 14 2/3 innings.

In addition to Fedde, the Nationals are expected to activate starting pitcher Joe Ross and call up outfielder Victor Robles on Tuesday. Ross has been out all season while recovering from Tommy John surgery and Robles — one of Washington’s top prospects — missed time with an elbow injury.

“What I want to see, I want to see some of the younger guys play, I want to see them in high-leverage situations,” Nationals manager Davey Martinez told the Post. “I want to see what they do and see what we have for the future. I really do.”