DENVER -- Improved strike-throwing has been the impetus of the Cardinals’ operating strategy through this final stretch before the All-Star break. It’s why they signed Saturday’s starting pitcher, Wade LeBlanc, who acknowledges he needs to throw to contact to pitch deep. It’s why they went to the waiver wire to snag reliever Justin Miller, owner of a 47 percent strikeout percentage in the Minors this season.
And it’s why they trusted Génesis Cabrera in a big spot on Saturday, with an arsenal that can beckon deft called strikes when working at its apex.
So as fate would have it, a first-pitch strike delivered by Cabrera provided the Rockies their game-breaking hit, a three-run blast by Trevor Story that traveled 461 feet and was too much for the Cardinals’ late rally to overcome in what became a 3-2 loss, St. Louis’ second through three games at Coors Field.
That Cabrera remained in the game to face Story was a peculiar development in its own right, already past the three-batter minimum and with Story owning a career .983 OPS against lefties entering the evening. John Gant, warming in the bullpen at that point, was ready and available, said manager Mike Shildt.
But citing the positive numbers Cabrera owns against righties with his changeup -- 0-for-20 on the year entering the at-bat with Story and a .500 OPS against them entering the day -- it was a position they liked Cabrera in.
One changeup just happened to go awry -- enough to bludgeon Cabrera’s knack for avoiding the homer.
“Story’s better against lefties. Candidly, that’s the guy we didn’t want to have to do any damage against us, but we were in a little bit of a pickle, and we were going to make some tough pitches and [Cabrera] made a mistake and he put a good swing on it,” Shildt said. “It goes like that sometimes. No one's happy about it, but I take Cabby on anybody, pretty much. He's done a great job.”
It was a game in which neither Cabrera nor the otherwise crisp night on the mound for the Cardinals would have done much to change the tide, as the offense was held listless by a Rockies starter for the third consecutive night. St. Louis scratched across a pair in the eighth and had the go-ahead run at second with two outs in the ninth before suffering its second loss in its last three games.
In 20 innings against Rockies starters, the Cardinals have scored just four runs.
The reason the club remained in striking distance was LeBlanc, who has allowed just one earned run through 10 innings across his first two starts with the Cardinals.
Foregoing the history -- an 8.54 career ERA in six games at Coors Field -- LeBlanc fired 5 2/3 scoreless, doing so with a pitch mix that induced six groundouts and four flyouts. One such groundout devolved into a double play that had the makings of a run-scoring error before luck ran its course.
LeBlanc has cemented his status as a rotation stalwart for the foreseeable future, morphed from his bullpen role after he was signed off the free-agent market.
“Just attacks hitters,” said Tommy Edman. “He doesn't have that elite stuff that a lot of guys do, but he really keeps guys off balance and throws strikes with multiple pitches. I think that just kind of goes to show you that you can really compete and do a great job at this level even without throwing 95, 96 [mph].”
“He’s been phenomenal,” Shildt said.
And it goes further than simply another night of success for each starter. Through three starts, Cardinals and Rockies starters own a 2.04 ERA at a site where such numbers tend to skyrocket.
One of those on the mound Saturday knows that all too well. And he doesn’t seem to think the tide should have turned.
“A guy like me,” LeBlanc said, “is not supposed to have success in a place like this.”