St. Louis Cardinals

Bullpen a source of concern as Cards’ opponents dominate late innings

Cardinals' Matheny gives update on Molina's sore knee

St. Louis Cardinals manager Mike Matheny talks about catcher Yadier Molina's sore left knee.
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St. Louis Cardinals manager Mike Matheny talks about catcher Yadier Molina's sore left knee.

Through 73 games, the St. Louis Cardinals have been outscored by 58 runs in the sixth, seventh, eighth and ninth innings, a disturbing sign of trouble for a team that is steadfastly clinging to playoff aspirations as the season approaches its halfway mark.

Opponents have outscored the Cardinals 41-30 in the sixth, 46-25 in the seventh, 53-30 in the eighth and 21-18 in the ninth.

The issue reared its head again Friday night as St. Louis allowed a run in the eighth and another in the ninth of a 4-3 loss to the Pittsburgh Pirates.

In the eighth, Trevor Rosenthal issued a one-out walk and two singles, one of them to David Freese that tied the game at 3.

In the ninth, closer Seung Hwan Oh nearly had John Jaso struck out on a 2-2 pitch. Jaso walloped Oh’s next pitch, a changeup, into the seats in right-center for the winning run.

Oh fell to 1-4 with a 3.71 ERA this season after going 6-3 with a 1.92 ERA in 2016. Oh, 34, has surrendered five home runs in 34 innings; last year, he allowed five homers in 79 2/3 innings.

“He was one breaking ball being called away from all of us walking off the field and saying, ‘Oh did a nice job,’” Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said. “I don’t want to overevaluate that.”

Left-handed batters have compiled a .338/.394/.585 slash line against Oh. Last season, the rookie was lights-out against lefties, registering a .176/,234/.221.

“There’s been some hard-hit balls (against Oh),” Matheny said. “Most of them are balls that are elevated in the zone that don’t have the typical life that we’re accustomed to seeing from him, with that late break on the slider and the deception and movement on the fastball. Those come and go through the length of a long season.”

Matheny hasn’t lost faith in Oh.

“This guy, he knows what he’s doing,” Matheny said. “When his stuff’s right, you’re seeing it. You’re seeing ugly swings against him. You can tell guys aren’t picking it up. But right now, he’s just fighting to find out that really good feel for that extra little movement. A lot of times, it’s just getting the ball down in the zone. Easier said than done sometimes.”

Molina sits again

Catcher Yadier Molina was in the initial lineup posted in the clubhouse by St. Louis, but the seven-time All-Star was scratched for a second consecutive day with pain in his left knee.

“Yadi’s going to need another day,” Matheny said. “It’s just inflammation from a contusion. Sometimes you get it in that bad spot, and it just won’t (respond). You could tell at the end of that Phillies game (Thursday) that it was tightening up. We’re trying to control the swelling and get the range of motion back.”

Molina was available to pinch-hit or play briefly on defense, Matheny said. Molina is batting .260 with nine home runs and 28 RBIs in 61 games.

Diaz, Piscotty roughed up

Shortstop Aledmys Diaz and right fielder Stephen Piscotty also took a seat on the bench.

Matheny said Diaz injured his thumb in his final at-bat in the eighth inning Friday. Piscotty, meanwhile, has forearm tightness.

“There are a number of guys (that need) a day off,” Matheny said. “We’re going to have to (do that) in the next few days.”

Matheny said both players could be utilized if necessary. Indeed, Diaz had a pinch-hit single in the eighth inning of a 7-3 loss to Pittsburgh. Piscotty also made a pinch-hitting appearance, driving in two runs with a ninth-inning single.

No room for Grichuk

Matheny indicated that outfielder Randal Grichuk will remain at Class AAA Memphis for an indefinite amount of time.

With Piscotty, Tommy Pham, Dexter Fowler and Jose Martinez in the mix, there’s no room for Grichuk.

“We haven’t necessarily put a timeline on it,” Matheny said. “You’ve got Dexter playing well and you’ve got Stephen playing well, and it’s no secret to what Tommy’s doing right now. So would it be beneficial to bring Randal here to sit? I would say no.

“He needs to play. He needs to continue to work on some of the things he’s working on. He’s doing some things well and we’re getting good reports from Memphis.”

Grichuk began Saturday batting .259 (15-for-58) with three doubles, five home runs and seven RBIs in 13 games. He has three walks and 18 strikeouts.

Progress for Duke

Reliever Zach Duke continues his seamless recovery from offseason Tommy John surgery and it is become more likely that he will be a part of the bullpen before the season expires.

“I’ve yet yo hear any setback at all with him,” Matheny said. “Every time he’s had a live (throwing) session, the next day he’s come in feeling strong. I would imagine, with what he’s done so far, he seems to be ahead of schedule. He’s responded well to everything they’ve given him.”

David Wilhelm: 618-239-2665, @DavidMWilhelm