Cardinals feel need to get bats in gear vs. Diamondbacks

After setting the table for a fourth-inning feast Thursday night, the St. Louis Cardinals never made it past the appetizer.

Yadier Molina’s RBI double put men at second and third with one out and one run in. Paul DeJong and Yairo Munoz walked to the plate, ready to dig in. Arizona Diamondbacks left-hander Robbie Ray sent them back to their room without dinner or dessert, fanning both to end the inning.

That left St. Louis trailing 3-1, and the Cardinals couldn’t get anything going against Ray and the bullpen in the final five innings as they lost their home opener.

“We’ve got to make something happen there,” St. Louis manager Mike Matheny said, “but it’s easier said than done.”

That can easily be said about facing Zack Greinke, which the Cardinals must do Saturday when the series resumes in Busch Stadium.

The ace of the Arizona staff has traditionally been tough on St. Louis, going 12-4 with a 3.17 ERA in 18 career starts. That includes a 7-1 decision last July under the Gateway Arch, which saw Greinke allow three straight hits and a run to the first three batters and then go into shutdown mode.

In Greinke’s first start of 2018 on March 31, he fanned nine in 5 2/3 innings in a no-decision against Colorado, allowing five hits and a walk to go along with a run. The Diamondbacks lost that game but no others in a 6-1 start.

Ray and four relievers limited the Cardinals to two hits while producing 13 strikeouts. St. Louis managed just one baserunner in the last three innings, and that was only because first baseman Paul Goldschmidt booted a Tommy Pham grounder.

“It’s one of the key factors to our success so far this season,” Arizona manager Torey Lovullo told mlb.com about the bullpen. “They know their roles. They come in and execute very, very well.

“When you’re in a 3-1 game against a team like this in a visiting ballpark, you really try to stop that momentum. Our pitchers did a great job of standing on their stuff and getting outs.”

Dating to a four-game series last July, Diamondbacks pitching has yielded just six runs in their last five games against St. Louis. The Cardinals have managed to eke out two wins in that stretch, including a 1-0 triumph that Michael Wacha fronted with six shutout innings.

Wacha will try to make amends for a rough first start March 31 at the New York Mets. He failed to make it out of the fifth inning, yielding five hits and four runs in 4 2/3 innings with two walks and two strikeouts in a 6-2 defeat.

In five career starts against Arizona, Wacha is 1-1 with a 3.45 ERA, allowing the Diamondbacks to bat just .236. Aside from his second career start, which saw the Diamondbacks rough him up in June 2013, Wacha has pitched well against them.

Sunday’s series finale pits Arizona’s Taijuan Walker (0-0, 5.40) against Luke Weaver (1-0, 1.80) in a matchup of young, hard-throwing right-handers.