Cards remain a threat with Carpenter sidelined
MILWAUKEE — Cardinals manager Mike Matheny held out hope as long as he could that pitcher Chris Carpenter would be healthy enough to return to the St. Louis rotation by Opening Day.
When it became clear during spring training that Carpenter would miss extended time into the regular season Matheny had no choice but to call for a backup plan.
As backup plans go, he can do a lot worse than Lance Lynn.
Lynn made his first start of the season Sunday and stymied the Milwaukee Brewers, as St. Louis rolled to a 9-3 victory in the rubber match of a three-game series at Miller Park. Lynn lasted 6 2/3 innings and allowed one run on two hits with eight strikeouts and one walk.
Considering that Lynn entered spring camp expecting to be a reliever and had started just two major league games, his performance was all the more impressive.
"He's just tough," Matheny said. "He's tough mentally. He's tough physically. He's a workhorse. He goes out there and he's got the arm and the body that can take that kind of heavy workload. That's going to play good for him in the future. You just never know what you're going to get that first outing."
What the Cardinals got was a gem of an outing from Lynn against a Brewers lineup that lacked pop for the second time in three games. And more performances like the one on Sunday could spell trouble for the rest of the National League Central because St. Louis (3-1), the defending World Series champion, hasn't skipped a beat in 2012 without one of its go-to pitchers.
Carpenter, a stalwart in the Cardinals rotation since 2004 and a former Cy Young Award winner, has been sidelined this season with a nerve ailment in his throwing shoulder. He hasn't faced live hitters since throwing batting practice March 3.
Lynn, meanwhile, had appeared in only 18 major league games during the regular season, with 16 coming in relief. But he also pitched under the toughest of circumstances out of the bullpen last season, making 10 postseason appearances for the Cardinals on the way to a World Series title. Five of those games came against the Brewers in the NLCS, when he didn't allow a run in 5 1/3 innings pitched.
In other words, an early-season start against these same Brewers hardly fazed him.
"I've started my whole life," Lynn said. "Relieving was fun and I enjoyed it because I got to pitch in a lot of big situations and big games. That's always fun. As a competitor, you enjoy those situations and enjoy those challenges. This is a new challenge and I've just got to keep preparing myself in between starts and doing what I have to do to keep moving forward."
On Sunday, Lynn's only slip was allowing a solo home run to Brewers right fielder Corey Hart, who launched his third long ball of the season. Lynn's day ended when he walked Aramis Ramirez with two outs in the seventh inning. With his pitch count at 100, Matheny pulled him for a reliever.
The effectiveness of Lynn amazed even the Brewers.
"I was surprised that somebody can transition from the bullpen to a starter and maintain his stuff," Brewers left fielder Ryan Braun said. "His velocity was consistently in the mid-90s. He had really good command of his fastball both sides of the plate. Last year, he didn't throw many of his slider-cutter pitch, whatever he was throwing today. And he really threw that pitch well today, too. I was impressed."
Lynn's emergence could go a long way toward helping to keep the Cardinals the class of the NL Central. Fellow starters Kyle Lohse, Jaime Garcia and Adam Wainwright pitched well in their season debuts, and Jake Westbrook opens his season Monday against Cincinnati.
It's still early in the season, but Milwaukee (1-2) showed it will have to play awfully well to surpass St. Louis for a second straight season. Last year, the Brewers won a club record 96 games to edge the Cardinals by six games in the standings. But St. Louis defeated Milwaukee 4-2 in the NLCS on the way to a World Series title.
While Brewers pitcher Zack Greinke showed his Cy Young Award form in a victory on Saturday, Yovani Gallardo and Randy Wolf weren't sharp against the Cardinals. Neither was the hitting in two of three games.
Of course, the Cardinals pitching staff had a lot to do with that.
"I just think the confidence that all these guys took out of the postseason last year — that 'I can do this and it's not going to get any more intense than the World Series and the playoffs down the stretch' — it tells you something about yourself," Matheny said. "And I think those guys have all taken that into the games and it's made them all better."
The results have left the Brewers already playing catchup in the NL Central.
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