Two of baseball’s top pitching staffs will square off Friday when the visiting Cleveland Indians face the St. Louis Cardinals to open a three-game weekend series.
The Indians sport a team ERA of 2.86 through 31 games, second-best in the majors.
Through 22 games, Cardinals pitchers held the opposition to a .184 batting average, lowest in the major leagues. They achieved this despite a 17-day shutdown due to the team’s COVID-19 outbreak.
Along the way, they have had to use several pitchers who normally would not have seen the big leagues this season. Through Thursday they had used 25 different pitchers.
“It’s very impressive,” manager Mike Shildt said. “I love the clarity of the plan. The pitchers deserve a high percentage of the credit, obviously. I love the aggression and how they want to attack. The catchers all share in that, as well.
“And Mike Maddux and Bryan Eversgerd, our pitching and bullpen coaches, are tremendous with their preparation and scouting, coupled with what we do analytically. But ultimately, the credit goes to the pitchers,” Shildt said.
The Cardinals pitched well again Thursday, but lost a doubleheader to the Pittsburgh Pirates 4-3 and 2-0.
They still need some starters to work deeper into games. Friday’s scheduled starter, Daniel Ponce de Leon, has worked just 11 2/3 innings in his three starts this season.
In his last start, Ponce de Leon (0-2, 5.25 ERA) struggled with his command. He walked four batters and allowed two runs on three hits in 4 2/3 innings in a 6-2 victory over the Cincinnati Reds.
The Indians will counter with elite pitching prospect Triston McKenzie (1-0, 1.50 ERA), who will be making just his second start in the majors. In his debut on Aug. 22, McKenzie struck out 10 batters and allowed just two hits in six innings of a 6-1 victory over the Detroit Tigers.
“I know he was a little nervous. You could see it on his face,” Indians catcher Roberto Perez said. “He told me, ‘Hey, I rate my pitches: fastball, breaking ball, slider, change.’ I said, ‘Alright.’ I didn’t want to put a lot of information on the guy. I wanted him to go out there and be himself. But he was outstanding tonight.”
With the Cardinals playing catchup with their schedule, they elected to play Thursday’s doubleheader while other teams participated in a multi-sport protest against the police shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wis.
Cardinals outfielder Dexter Fowler declined to play Wednesday in protest. Jack Flaherty joined him, although he wasn’t scheduled to pitch.
Before Thursday’s doubleheader, Flaherty spoke of his solidarity with NBA players taking a stand.
“They (NBA players) just wanted to not have basketball be a distraction yesterday. Not have basketball be a distraction today. To force everybody to face the reality of what is going on,” Flaherty said. “That’s a lot of the comments that go on Twitter and social media. ‘Sports is supposed to be a distraction. We want a distraction from the situation.’
“That’s kind of part of the problem. People don’t like to face reality. People don’t like to face the reality of the situation of what is going on. That’s where, by the NBA not playing yesterday, you had to listen. You had to listen to, well, why? Well, because of what went on in Wisconsin. Because of what is going on since George Floyd was murdered, and what has gone on for the last 400 years. You were forced to listen to the situation. And if it’s uncomfortable, then I don’t really know what to say to that,” Flaherty said.
–Field Level Media