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Cardinals beat 9/8

September 8, 2010 Comments off

Pagnozzi making first career start for Cards

MILWAUKEE — After being recalled from Triple-A Memphis a week ago, catcher Matt Pagnozzi got his first Major League start behind the plate on Wednesday against the Brewers.

“Pagnozzi knows [Jaime] Garcia, so that helps,” said manager Tony La Russa.

Pagnozzi, who is a nephew of former Cardinals Gold Glover Tom Pagnozzi, has spent each of the past two seasons with the Memphis Redbirds before being called up in September. In 2009, each of the final five games of the season saw Pagnozzi enter in the late innings.

In those five games, Pagnozzi did not record a hit in three at-bats, while walking once and reaching base on an error. In the season’s final game, Pagnozzi scored a run in the Cardinals’ 9-7 loss to the Brewers at Busch Stadium.

Pagnozzi recorded his first big league hit during the fifth inning on Wednesday.

In 68 games for Memphis this season, Pagnozzi batted .242 with a .338 on-base percentage and a .309 slugging percentage with one home run and 21 RBIs.

Not known for his offense, Pagnozzi is a better defensive catcher than fellow rookie Bryan Anderson. With better offensive numbers and improved defense, Anderson overtook Pagnozzi as the Cardinals’ top backup catcher.

“[Pagnozzi] knows the idea about working a pitcher [and has] a strong throwing arm,” La Russa said. “But that’s a good testament to Andy that Andy moved ahead of him because of the kind of year he had.”

La Russa’s lineup leans right vs. Capuano

MILWAUKEE — With left-handed starter Chris Capuano on the mound on Wednesday for the Brewers, Cardinals manager Tony La Russa went with a mostly right-handed lineup. The only left-handed hitters were Colby Rasmus and starting pitcher Jaime Garcia.

Included in it was Tyler Greene, who started at second base for the first time since July 3 and batted leadoff for the first time since May 4. The move was particularly interesting considering switch-hitter Felipe Lopez has a career .462 average against Capuano with one home run and two walks.

Greene, on the other hand, has never faced Capuano.

The decision came down to Lopez’s recent struggles outweighing past success against Capuano. In his past 75 at-bats, Lopez has recorded just eight hits.

On the season, Capuano has held lefties to a .220 batting average while right-handed hitters have posted a .290 mark against him. With Capuano’s splits and Lopez’s past numbers in mind, did La Russa consider starting his struggling second baseman?

“Yeah,” La Russa said. “[But] he’s just not himself at the plate.”

Anniversary of McGwire passing Maris

MILWAUKEE — It may be hard to believe, but Wednesday marked the 12th anniversary of Cardinals hitting coach Mark McGwire breaking Roger Maris’ home run record with homer No. 62 on Sept. 8, 1998.

With two outs in the bottom of the fourth inning, McGwire blasted the first pitch he saw from Cubs starter Steve Traschel out to left field, where it barely cleared the fence. All that mattered was that it went out, though, as the homer sparked a memorable on-field celebration.

McGwire’s blast broke Roger Maris’ single-season record of 61 home runs, which had stood since the 1961 season. Over the final 18 games of the 1998 season, McGwire added eight more home runs, finishing with a then-record 70 homers.

In the 12 years since that thrilling season, McGwire has seen his record broken by Barry Bonds in 2001, admitted to steroid use during his career and assumed the role of hitting coach at the start of this season.

“I hadn’t thought about that,” said Cardinals manager Tony La Russa of how long it had been since McGwire’s record-breaking homer. “That’s a fast 12 years.”

Worth noting

Left-handed reliever Trever Miller underwent an MRI scan in St. Louis on Wednesday, which revealed a forearm strain. He is considered day-to-day. … Third baseman David Freese underwent a procedure today in Colorado for a debridement of his left ankle. He will begin therapy this week.

Jordan Schelling is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Axford, Loe at it again in Crew’s tight victory

August 19, 2010 Comments off

ST. LOUIS — There was a time when bringing in Kameron Loe and John Axford out of the Brewers’ bullpen was as sure a sign of a Brewers victory as anything.

Things have gotten a bit more interesting lately, but when it comes down to it, Axford and Loe are the Brewers’ No. 1 and No. 2 options out of the ‘pen. If the game is on the line, it’s a pretty safe bet that one, or both, is going to pitch in the late innings.

Lately, even a heavy workload and minor struggles have not been enough to deter manager Ken Macha from making the call for the right-handed duo. More often than not, that strategy has worked out.

With a two-run lead through six innings Tuesday night, Axford and Loe combined for the final three frames as the Crew took the first of a two-game set from the Cardinals, winning, 3-2, at Busch Stadium.

Part of the strategy being successful, Macha conceded, is getting honest assessments from the players about how they feel. The other part is common sense.

“On Sunday, Axford said he was fine, but I wasn’t going to use him because he had been in two out of three days with a lot of pitches,” Macha said.

Pitching for the seventh time in the team’s past 11 games — over a 12-day span — Loe recalled memories of his stellar month of June in Tuesday’s seventh, retiring the Cardinals in order on three groundouts and just 15 pitches. But the eighth inning was a different story.

Just when Loe appeared to be back to his usual, dominant self, he gave up a pair of singles around a grounder to short, prompting Macha to call Axford’s number.

Axford, called upon to pitch more than one inning for the ninth time this season — six of which have been saves — allowed a run on a wild pitch before escaping with the lead intact. In the ninth, Axford shut down St. Louis in order, securing his 18th save of the season.

Axford picked up his sixth save of more than an inning in length in six chances and recorded his ninth appearance of four outs or more. In 36 games this season, Axford has yet to pitch less than a full frame.

“It’s been three in a row now,” Axford said, referring to his save Thursday of 1 2/3 innings and win Saturday, in which he went two full innings. “It’s fine with me, in all honesty. If that’s the way it’s going to be, that’s the way it’s going to be.”

Loe and Axford closed out a stellar performance by right-handed starter Dave Bush, who cruised through six innings, giving up just one run — Albert Pujols’ 31st homer — on four hits and one walk with three strikeouts.

Bush (6-10) left after just 91 pitches due to a blister on his pitching hand. Before that early exit, Bush kept the Cardinals’ hitters off balance all night, allowing no more than one baserunner in any inning.

“The biggest thing was keeping the ball down,” Bush said. “There wasn’t anything in particular that was working unusually well, but I was commanding my fastball down in the zone.”

Bush outdueled rookie Jaime Garcia, whose manager said he was “in some of his best form.”

Garcia (10-6) tossed his 16th quality start of the season and fifth of no earned runs at home, giving up just three unearned runs on five hits over six innings pitched. The left-hander was roughed up in two innings, though, both of which were marked by Felipe Lopez errors.

In the third inning, Lopez’s error proved costly. Brewers third baseman Casey McGehee belted a two-run homer to center field, which capped a three-run inning and proved to be the eventual game-winner.

“We lost that game because of me. That’s all,” Lopez said. “I make those plays, we win.”

After a quiet three-game series in Colorado, McGehee was swinging as hot a bat as ever.

Entering the game just 1-for-7 against Garcia with a walk and a strikeout, McGehee hit the ball hard up the middle in each of his three at-bats, including the two-run homer.

McGehee’s second-inning single was ripped hard off Garcia’s left leg, ricocheting into foul territory on the third-base side. An inning later, McGehee belted his 19th homer of the season.

McGehee has hit safely in 12 of his past 14 games, batting .411 (23-for-56) in that stretch with five home runs and 19 RBIs. In the 21 games since July 25, when he broke a homerless streak, McGehee has gone .370 (30-for-81) with six home runs and 22 RBIs.

“It’s a whole [heck] of a lot of luck,” McGehee joked. “The biggest thing was just confidence, I think. For a while there, I was making it a little too complicated.

“I just tried to get back to trying to playing my game and not be something I’m not.”

Jordan Schelling is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.