Don’t believe the St. Louis Cardinals’ starting pitchers are going to continue to struggle.
That was the message from Michael Wacha on Tuesday after he, well, struggled in an 8-5 loss to the Chicago Cubs. It was the second straight shoddy outing by a starter.
Wacha allowed six runs (earned) on six hits in four innings, one game after Lance Lynn was touched for six runs on seven hits in 2 1/3 innings of a 9-0 loss to the Cubs.
“It’s not something we’re accustomed to and it’s not something people should get used to,” said Wacha, whose record slipped to 15-5. “These past couple of nights haven’t been typical of what we’ve been doing all year. We’ve just got to get back to what had been working in the past starts and get back on a roll.”
It was the first time Cardinals starters had yielded six runs to the Cubs in consecutive games since Jason Simontacchi and Matt Morris on July 27-28, 2002. Chicago has scored eight or more runs in back-to-back games in St. Louis for the first time since June 29-30, 1937.
Wacha, like Lynn, was pitching on extra rest, part of manager Mike Matheny’s plan to keep both fresh through September and perhaps into the postseason.
Lynn pitched on three days’ extra rest, while Wacha hadn’t worked in 11 days.
Could the disruption of the pitchers’ regular routine have something to do with their ineffectiveness?
“I wouldn’t put much into that,” Wacha said. “I was still throwing bullpens in between and still keeping the same kind of routine as if I was starting.”
Matheny acknowledged a break from the ordinary could have played an adverse role.
“But we’ve got to do what we think is right,” he said. “We’ve got young pitchers and we need to figure out how to keep them strong. We do what we can and then you live with the results. Sometimes you get an immediate return, sometimes it’s delayed. You stick with what’s right, regardless. There’s no lack of urgency here. It’s a matter of making good decisions.”
The loss was the fifth in six games for the Cardinals, whose lead over the second-place Pittsburgh Pirates shrank to 4 1/2 games. The third-place Cubs are 6 1/2 games behind St. Louis.
St. Louis is 87-51 with 24 games remaining.
“There were a couple or three days ago when somebody was asking us what we thought about winning the most games in franchise history (106 in 1942),” Matheny said. “How quick everything turns. So, let’s get back to us playing good baseball. Let’s trust what we can do. Let’s trust what we’ve already done. It’s not like we’re dreaming something up here. This is a team that can play consistent baseball for long periods of time.”
Unlike Monday, the Cardinals staged a fight in the second game of the series.
Chicago led 2-0 in the first, 6-0 in the second and 8-0 in the seventh. Anthony Rizzo hit a two-run homer in the first and Starlin Castro popped a three-run homer in the second.
“They came out swinging,” Wacha said. “I’ve got to make better pitches early on in the count ... and just make them feel more uncomfortable in the box.”
The Cardinals sent 11 batters to the plate in their half of the seventh and climbed within 8-5. Randal Grichuk’s two-run homer as a pinch-hitter, his first at-bat since Aug. 16, carried 451 feet and landed in the second deck in left to get the Cardinals within 8-2 against Jason Hammel.
Stephen Piscotty’s two-run single to center against Pedro Strop made it 8-4, and Tony Cruz had an RBI single to left against Strop to make it 8-5. That brought Grichuk back to the plate for yet another pinch-hitting appearance, but he struck out to leave the bases loaded.
“I wanted to come through, get a knock, score some runs and keep the rally going,” Grichuk said. “Unfortunately, (Strop) got me.”
Matheny is glad to have Grichuk active again, even if he can only pinch-hit and pinch-run.
“It was a nice shot in the arm for our club,” Matheny said of Grichuk’s homer, his 16th of the season. “It would have been nice to see him do it twice.”
Grichuk, who was activated Sunday after missing 18 games with a strained right elbow, was cleared to hit moments before the first pitch Tuesday. He still can’t play in the field; he only began to throw Monday from 60 feet and experienced slight discomfort.
“I found out (I could hit) very soon before the game,” Grichuk said. “I went through all the channels and talked them into letting me be able to get out there. They wanted me to wait a little bit longer, (but) said there was no risk of hurting it more. I felt good in BP and they said it was a matter of getting my timing down and feeling comfortable facing major-league pitching.
“I said I wanted to help my team win, so I talked to everybody I needed to talk to and get the OK.”