Rotation, bullpen pull Cardinals out of slump
After manager Mike Matheny challenged his team to play with the urgency that "the sky is falling," the Cardinals put together a modest two-game winning streak.
Their 1-0 and 5-3 victories over the Chicago White Sox on Wednesday and Thursday, respectively, had a lot to do with starting pitching.
Right-hander Lance Lynn worked 7 1/3 innings, fanning 12 on Wednesday, and then right-hander Jake Westbrook worked five scoreless innings before giving up a three-run homer to Chicago left fielder Adam Dunn in the sixth inning on Thursday.
Nonetheless, Westbrook gained his first win in his last seven starts. In his previous six, he had allowed 59 baserunners -- 47 hits and 12 walks -- in 31 innings. He was perfect through four innings Thursday, and he didn't walk a batter in his six-inning outing.
Twelve of Westbrook's 18 outs (eight in the first three innings) came on grounders.
Matheny said, "In the first inning, he tried to find what the umpire's lowest zone was going to be."
Westbrook was yanked after just 67 pitches, but Matheny admitted he was concerned by what he saw in the sixth.
"The balls were getting hit pretty hard that last inning," the manager said, "and we had a fresh bullpen."
The previously rocky bullpen has been spotless the last two nights, with right-hander Jason Motte gaining his 12th and 13th saves. Over 4 2/3 innings in the two games, the Cardinals, employing six relievers, didn't give up a run.
The offense lately had consisted of right fielder Carlos Beltran, who had had all three of the Cardinals' homers on the current homestand and was 12-for-26 (.462) in a seven-game hitting streak. However, Beltran was bothered by a stomach virus and didn't play Thursday.
Third baseman David Freese stepped in to hit a two-run homer and drove in another run with a double. Freese homered to right-center, doubled to right-center and lined to right.
"That's where he needs to be," said Matheny, knowing full well that Freese's best power is to the opposite field.
RF Carlos Beltran, after making a great catch and getting three hits while sick on Wednesday, did not play on Thursday because of a stomach virus that required him to spend part of Wednesday night in a hospital emergency room. "It was a great lesson for a lot of the young players," manager Mike Matheny said of Beltran's play on Wednesday. "I said, 'I want you guys to realize that this guy was so sick we could hardly get him off the (trainers') table.' ... You could see them shaking their heads a bit."
3B David Freese hit his 13th home run, a two-run shot in the third inning Thursday. Manager Mike Matheny said he could tell something was afoot by watching Freese's batting practice before the game. "He found something," Matheny said. "You could see that translated into the game. He had an easy stroke (in batting practice) and the ball was carrying over our bullpen (in right field)." Freese is 7-for-15 in a four-game hitting streak.
Rookie 1B Matt Adams had been 1-for-14 with seven strikeouts, including two K's on Thursday, before he singled home two runs in the fifth inning. Manager Mike Matheny said, "I applaud his adjustments. The first two at-bats, it looked like he wasn't seeing the ball. But he'll have at-bats (like that) and then look completely different the next time he comes up. That is not typical for a young player." Adams said, "I was pressing a lot, trying to do too much. I told myself to relax and see the ball as good as I could."
SS Rafael Furcal singled in the eighth innings, snapping an 0-for-23 skid that had dropped his average under .300. Manager Mike Matheny already had planned to give Furcal, one of the Cardinals' best and most consistent players this season, the next game off and probably two in the series with Kansas City that begins Friday night.
RHP Victor Marte, who was sent out late in the spring only to be brought up one day into the season, is getting more and more work later in games, even appearing in the eighth inning of Thursday's win. He has been the Cardinals' top reliever against left-handed hitters.
Before Thursday, consecutive games in which the Cardinals had scored two or fewer runs. That was the team's longest such stretch since 1997. The drought ended with a 5-3 win over the White Sox.
"You can't go through a season without having spurts like that. It's too long of a season." Manager Mike Matheny, commenting on the Cardinals scoring only seven runs in the first five games of their homestand before they got five in Thursday's game.