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Cards can’t rally after Garcia’s rare off night

September 9, 2010 Comments off

MILWAUKEE — As dominant as Jaime Garcia had been lately, the Cardinals’ prospects of winning the series against the Brewers certainly looked good heading into the finale.

Add his 2-1 record with a 1.08 ERA against the Brewers this season with just three earned runs allowed on 20 hits and it would seem everything was in place for St. Louis to head out of town on a winning note as they looked to stay in the National League playoff hunt.

Instead, Garcia delivered the worst starting performance of his career, as the Cardinals lost, 8-1, on Wednesday for a tough road series loss after taking the series opener on Monday.

With their lineup, the Brewers were bound to rough up Garcia eventually. But with the way the rookie left-hander had shut them down in four previous starts, it would have been hard to predict they’d hand him his worst outing of the season.

“Obviously, they have a great lineup and good team,” Garcia said. “It was just one of those days that I tried to do too much.

“It was just me not having confidence tonight and being lost out there.”

Entering the game, the Brewers had scored just seven runs — three earned — on 20 hits in 25 innings against Garcia with 22 strikeouts against 10 walks. They doubled their run total on Wednesday, putting up seven runs on seven hits in just four innings.

“Tonight might have been the result of being more aggressive,” said left fielder Ryan Braun, who drove in four of the Brewers’ eight runs. “When you’re aggressive and putting pressure on the other team, it seems to be advantageous.

“He didn’t make too many mistakes, but the ones he did make, we were able to take advantage of.”

A couple of those mistakes — two walks — played integral roles in the Brewers’ big innings.

With one out in the third inning, Garcia walked Rickie Weeks, who stole second base. One strikeout later, Garcia surrendered three straight hits, an RBI single by Ryan Braun, a Prince Fielder ground-rule double and a two-run single by Casey McGehee.

An inning later, it was much the same story.

After shortstop Alcides Escobar led off with a single, Weeks walked again, with two outs this time, to spark the Brewers. Right fielder Corey Hart followed with a single, scoring Escobar, and Braun blasted a three-run homer just over the wall in center field.

“That was completely, 100 percent my fault,” Garcia said of the home run. “[Pitching coach Dave] Duncan went out there and told me we need to do something with sinkers and I threw a changeup.

“That happens when you try to do something else.”

Garcia’s line marked a career-worst outing for the rookie. Garcia had surrendered as many as eight runs in a game on Aug. 3, but only four were earned. His previous high in earned runs allowed was five.

“I think he was just in the middle of the plate,” said Cardinals manager Tony La Russa. “He had good stuff through a lot of it, but if you look at the pitches that they hurt him on for runs, he just got the ball in the middle.

“That’s something he hasn’t done very often. It was one of those nights.”

The disappointing outing by Garcia only added to what has been a rough start to a crucial road trip for the Cardinals.

With the Reds losing to the Rockies on Tuesday and Wednesday, the Cardinals could potentially have gained two games in the division race with wins. Instead, they remain six games behind Cincinnati in the NL Central with 25 to play.

All eight of the Brewers’ runs on Wednesday and 16 of their 18 runs in the series scored with two outs. For Garcia, shutting down opposing hitters with two outs had been a strength before Wednesday’s rough outing.

“That’s been one of his real keys, he’s been really good putting hitters away,” La Russa said. “Mistakes with men in scoring position, you’ll get burnt.”

Garcia certainly deserved some blame for Wednesday’s loss, but his counterpart kept the Cardinals’ offense quiet for the second straight night. Left-hander Chris Capuano tossed seven strong innings, giving up just one run on four hits while not allowing a walk. Capuano (3-3) also struck out two batters.

The Cardinals’ only run on the night came from Albert Pujols, who went 2-for-3 with a solo homer and a double. Colby Rasmus and rookie Matt Pagnozzi were the only other Cardinals to reach safely against Capuano, with Pagnozzi picking up his first career hit.

It was yet another poor offensive night for the Cardinals against a soft-tossing lefty, which is starting to become a troubling theme.

“I think there’s something there,” La Russa said. “We’ve got better hitters against left-handed pitching than we’ve done here in the last couple weeks. Prior to this, we were getting our wins against left-handers, but we’re getting shut down pretty regularly now, so we’ve got to do something about it.”

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

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.