John Lackey hasn’t performed at the level the St. Louis Cardinals thought he would after acquiring him at the trade deadline.
He’ll have a chance to begin redeeming himself Friday night against the visiting Reds after an early exit from his outing in Cincinnati nine days earlier.
St. Louis (85-68) maintained its 2 1/2-game edge over Pittsburgh in the NL Central with a 3-2 victory over Milwaukee in 13 innings Thursday. Tony Cruz, who was one of 14 Cardinals to record an at-bat, delivered the winning single.
They’ve won five of six while the Pirates are a major league-best 11-2 since Sept. 5.
"You don’t want to scoreboard-watch but it goes on, especially this time of the year," said Cruz, who delivered just his 14th RBI this season. "We know what’s at stake."
The Cardinals are hitting just .226 over their last seven games, but their starting pitching has carried them to five wins in that span. Shelby Miller yielded one earned run over six innings Thursday, marking the seventh straight game in which a St. Louis starter surrendered one earned run or fewer over at least five innings. No Cardinals rotation has accomplished that feat in eight straight contests since at least 1914.
Lackey (2-2, 5.05 ERA) wasn’t pitching anywhere near that well last Wednesday as he was tossed after walking the first batter of the third inning in St. Louis’ 4-2 loss at Cincinnati. Plate umpire Tom Hallion said Lackey was arguing balls and strikes before he was ejected.
"I didn’t say any cuss words toward him," said Lackey, who was charged with two runs. "He saw my mouth moving and threw me out. It was unexpected, for sure."
Lackey, who was 11-7 with a 3.60 ERA for the Red Sox, owns a 5.49 ERA in seven starts since winning his debut with the Cardinals on Aug. 3 and has allowed a home run in five straight outings for the first time since doing so in eight straight from July 5-Aug. 16, 2008.
Though Cincinnati (71-82) took three of four from St. Louis last week, Lackey figures to be facing a confidence-starved lineup this time around. The Reds have totaled three runs during a four-game losing streak. They’ve also dropped 15 of 17 on the road and are 7-27 away from home since June 30.
"It’s been a tough road trip to this point," manager Bryan Price said. "… We’ve just really struggled to score runs."
RBI leader Todd Frazier is 2 for his last 15 with runners in scoring position, though he’s 2 for 3 overall with a home run against Lackey.
David Holmberg (1-1, 6.00) recorded his first career victory in a 5-1 win at Milwaukee on Saturday after allowing two hits in six innings with the lone run coming on Aramis Ramirez’s homer. He’s looking to pitch himself into a possible spot in next year’s rotation.
"I just believe this September is hugely important for David simply to have the opportunity to pitch and get more comfortable as we head into 2015," Price said.
Holmberg threw 5 2-3 scoreless innings of relief in the Reds’ 5-0 loss to St. Louis on Sept. 8.
Matt Adams has hit .396 over his last 14 meetings with Cincinnati.