Miller keeps Cards’ rotation rolling in opener win
Rookie carries shutout into seventh after Holliday goes deep
By Jenifer Langosch / MLB.com | 9/11/2013 1:17 AM ET
ST. LOUIS — Seeking stability from their starting rotation upon the conclusion of a rocky 2-5 road trip, the Cardinals have watched their starters rise to the call.
After a weekend sweep of the Pirates that featured three quality starts, Shelby Miller continued the rotation’s roll with another on Tuesday. With 6 2/3 scoreless innings and the support of Matt Holliday’s sixth-inning blast, Miller lifted the Cardinals to a 4-2 win over a Brewers club that has beaten St. Louis just three times in 14 tries this season.
The victory came in front of 35,050 at Busch Stadium and pushed the Cardinals’ winning streak to four. It also ensured a hold on their one-game division lead over the Pirates, who defeated the Rangers for a second straight night. The Reds, with another loss to the Cubs, dropped to three games back in the National League Central race.
“We know what’s at stake, and we know every day how many games we’re ahead by,” Miller said after becoming the league’s second rookie to 13 wins. “I think it makes it more fun for us to come to the field every day and know we’re in a big race.”
Having won just one of his last six starts, Miller relied on a game plan devised by catcher Yadier Molina. In particular, Miller was more effective with his offspeed pitches. His curveball was sharper than it had been, and his changeup, which Miller threw with an improvised grip, was a weapon. He mixed the cutter in with success, as well.
Miller worked out of a bases-loaded jam in the second with a groundout from Brewers counterpartWily Peralta. That would be the most serious bit of trouble the righty faced all night. Milwaukee tallied only two other hits off Miller, who handed the shutout over to reliever Kevin Siegrist with two out in the seventh.
“You can tell that he’s out there working and using his other pitches. You’re going to have to,” manager Mike Matheny said. “When a team comes through and sees you just blowing fastballs on the top of the zone, they make an adjustment. With what he was able to do today, it is hard to have one consistent game plan against.”
That assessment was echoed from the other side.
“He’s pitching more now,” Brewers manager Ron Roenicke said. “The first time we saw him, he just threw high fastballs and blew us away. He’s really pitching now, throwing a lot of breaking balls, throwing a really good changeup, and still has the velocity when he wants it on his fastball. He’s pitching down in the zone now more with his fastball and up when he wants to. He doesn’t look like a rookie.”
Miller, now 3-0 with a 1.08 ERA against the Brewers, exited with a two-run lead that was provided with the Cardinals’ only hit off Peralta through six innings.
Peralta opened his night by striking out five of the first seven batters. He carried a no-hitter into the sixth and came within an out of pushing it an inning deeper. Brewers catcher Martin Maldonadowanted to start Holliday off with a fastball down and away, but for the first time all night, Peralta shook off the sign. He chose to throw a sinker.
Holliday crushed it 424 feet into the left-center-field stands.
“That’s part of baseball,” Maldonado said. “I prefer if you’re going to give up a homer or a base hit in that situation, it’s a pitch they commit to.”
Matt Carpenter, who had walked with one out, scored on the homer, Holliday’s 19th of the season. Holliday is now batting .319 and has 34 RBIs in 44 games since returning from the disabled list.
“I don’t look at the numbers,” Holliday said. “I try to take it day to day. I come every day and have good at-bats and help the team win.”
Carpenter and Matt Adams drove in a two-out run in each of the next two innings, which proved significant when Milwaukee’s Logan Schafer foiled the Cardinals’ shutout bid with a two-run homer off Edward Mujica in the ninth.
While the bullpen has not been its best over the last four games, the collective jolt by the rotation couldn’t have come at a more opportune time for the Cardinals, who began this homestand trailing the Pirates by a game and a half. Their rotation had posted a losing record and 4.31 ERA since the All-Star break. It featured more unknowns than certainties.
Yet, four games has done much to alter that perception. Over the weekend, Adam Wainwright again pitched as the ace he is, while rookie hotshot Michael Wacha further halted any debate about who best can fill the rotation’s fifth spot. Joe Kelly continues to provide consistency, and Miller reminded all on Tuesday why he’s one of the league’s most accomplished rookie pitchers this season.
“This game is all about the starting pitching and timely hits,” Carpenter said. “We’ve done a good job of both all season. And when we’re going our best is when our starting pitching gives us a chance to win games. You look at the best part of our season was when our starting pitching was dominant, and now they’re starting to kind of come back into that groove and we’ve been winning games.”
A rotation that managed just two quality starts over a seven-game road trip has surrendered only one run in 26 2/3 innings this homestand. Lance Lynn will inherit the rotation’s scoreless-innings streak of 22 innings when he takes the mound Wednesday.
For the first time since the season’s second week, the Cardinals have strung together three consecutive scoreless starts.
“The last four starts have been pretty impressive to watch; I’m excited to watch the fifth one,” Matheny said. “These guys have all really kicked it into a different gear.”