Waino struggles in 1st start as Cards fall

April 4th, 2021

Before there were fireworks, there were deflations.

The Cardinals’ 9-6 defeat at the hands of the Reds on Saturday at Great American Ball Park continued an inauspicious trend for a category already carrying question marks within.

Undone by a troublesome third, Adam Wainwright ceded six runs across just 2 2/3 innings, giving Cardinals starters 12 earned runs allowed in their first two games of the season -- a combined seven innings -- after Jack Flaherty spread a half-dozen runs across 4 1/3 frames in the Opening Day victory.

“Sometimes you put a little bit of bad mojo out there,” Wainwright said. “I think that must have been what happened, because that was some weird stuff, man.”

The Cardinals’ rotation, already ailing, has seen its two most dependable arms run into trouble their first turns through.

The wobbly start was too much for St. Louis to overcome. Bookmarking a benches-clearing incident incited by Nick Castellanos taking a pitch off of the ribs were a pair of homers from Paul DeJong and the first long ball of Nolan Arenado’s St. Louis tenure. They continued a homer-happy start to the season.

After sailing through the first two innings -- working around hard contact and receiving defensive gems in the first -- it was an unraveling third frame for Wainwright, who was done in by well-placed balls. Only one at-bat resulted with an exit velocity north of 100 mph; two hits failed to surmount 66 mph.

“I'm not sure I've been a part of an inning like that, honestly,” Wainwright said. “ … You hate to say it, but I had a lot of bad luck out there.”

A leadoff walk -- the bane of a pitcher’s existence -- precipitated a middle-middle cutter that Tucker Barnhart walloped out to right-center field for a two-run shot. In truth, it was the lone pitch that the Cards felt Wainwright let get away from him the entire outing.

Ensuing hit after hit seemed to have just about every seeing-eye capability that they could have. Balls cued right along the line, a soft grounder that didn’t make it out of the infield grass and others fielded just too deep in the dirt to make a play -- they all went for singles.

“We looked at it, and sitting there living it, it was just a little bizarro world,” said manager Mike Shildt.

The Cardinals plan to rely on Flaherty’s ace hopes and Wainwright’s “bulldog” moniker for the 2021 season. But they’ll need to see results from the bottom three-fifths of their rotation in the early going, already compounded by the fact that Kwang Hyun Kim and Miles Mikolas are out of commission to open the year.

Those gaps will be filled by Carlos Martínez, Daniel Ponce de Leon and John Gant -- in order -- until the corps returns to full health. St. Louis preaches confidence in its depth, and that is coming at the outset of the season.

But if St. Louis needed a positive sign from Game 2 of the season, it came in the form of DeJong (two solo homers, two walks) and Jordan Hicks, who pitched a 1-2-3 seventh inning to cap off his long trek back to the bigs since June 2019 Tommy John surgery, which also included opting out of the ’20 season.

For DeJong, specifically, it was a positive arrival to the 2021 season after an uneven spring. Just as impressive as the long balls -- a combined 791 feet in distance -- were the walks. Balance has been a focus for DeJong to be the dependable starting shortstop that the Cardinals need him to be. Balance in the box, balance in the mindset and balance with his health.

“I like the word balance a lot,” Shildt said. “Applicable for a lot of reasons today.”