Shildt: Oviedo 'going to be a real beast'

April 29th, 2021

was oh so close to the career milestone (or at least the chance for it), one out -- and potentially one pitch -- away from a qualified start and the opportunity to depart the Busch Stadium mound in line for his first big league win.

A hanging 2-0 slider to an old friend dashed such hopes.

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The two-run home run Oviedo allowed to former Cardinal Brad Miller put a dour final note on an otherwise soaring evening for the Cardinals’ righty and No. 9 prospect, who surrendered the lead after striking out a career-high seven Phillies in what became a partly deflating and partly frightening 5-3 loss in St. Louis on Wednesday.

“I was just thinking to go slider down and in, a backfoot slider just hanging in a little bit,” Oviedo said. “I was thinking kind of like striking the ball. … But I just left it around the plate, and he put a good swing.”

All told, it was a positive step forward for Oviedo, pegged as the sixth man in the rotation with the Cardinals under a gauntlet of 17 games in as many days. Oviedo’s first results in that role went as such: Five innings, just three hits, three runs, a pair of walks and seven punchouts -- the most by a Cuban-born Cardinal since Rene Arocha fanned nine Padres in April 1994.

“He got ahead in counts and was able to make a lot of good pitches,” manager Mike Shildt said. “Stuff was really good. This guy is going to be a real beast in this league.”

Ultimately, Oviedo’s final line didn’t change the tide of the game. That came when Génesis Cabrera entered in relief of him in the sixth, promptly hitting Bryce Harper in the face with a 96.9-mph sinker and Didi Gregorius in the back on the next pitch, then conceding an RBI single to end his night. The flame-throwing lefty grimaced and crouched in displeasure when his pitches resulted in plunkings, though Philadelphia manager Joe Girardi was ejected from the game when warnings were issued.

Shildt said that had it not been for the three-batter minimum rule -- which allows pitchers in relief who don’t close out an inning to exit only due to physical injury or illness without facing at least a trio of batters -- he would have promptly removed Cabrera from the game. As soon as he was able to, following an RBI single by Andrew McCutchen, Tyler Webb took over.

“You're talking about an aggressive young pitcher that's throwing to one of the superstars in this game and is wanting to give him his best ball, and the ball got away from him, and unfortunately it got Bryce up top,” Shildt said, adding a reference to Cabrera’s 12-to-4 strikeout-to-walk ratio entering Wednesday.

Cabrera, for his part, was visibly shaken on the mound, apologizing postgame and stressing that he felt like he was overthrowing from the get-go.

By the time reporters were done asking questions, Cabrera wanted to make an additional statement:

“I want to again apologize for all the actions that happened,” he said. “Especially to Harper. I really wish him the best, and I hope he has a speedy recovery with whatever it is that happened and then be able to come back to baseball activities. The game kind of got away from me at that point. And I'm really sorry for everything that happened today. None of it was intentional. And again, I'm sorry.”

Oviedo’s command was seldom in doubt on Wednesday, a night of firsts and almost firsts for not just him, making his first start at Busch Stadium with fans in attendance, but for the club. His outing was the cementing of the Cardinals’ six-man rotation, as they plan to avoid any starters going on short rest amid the current stretch of games.

Oviedo has long known he would be tapped for such an opportunity this season. He made five starts -- partly by necessity -- in 2020, but time spent tinkering on the back fields in Spring Training were made for nights like Wednesday, when the Cardinals got a taste of an arm they believe can be in their rotation for years to come.

“My mind was just to help the team out with anything they need me,” Oviedo said. “And I was ready to earn the spot.”