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Gomber debuts with 3 scoreless relief innings

MLB.com @JoeTrezz

ST. LOUIS -- Manager Mike Matheny stood in his office shortly before the Cardinals' 3-2 walk-off win over the Pirates on Saturday at Busch Stadium, arms folded, and spoke eagerly. The subject was a new bullpen option suddenly at his disposal, one with a profile Matheny described as "different" -- tall, left-handed, with a wipeout hook and the endurance of a starter. He was talking about Austin Gomber.

"We want to pitch him," Matheny said. "We want to see what we've got."

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ST. LOUIS -- Manager Mike Matheny stood in his office shortly before the Cardinals' 3-2 walk-off win over the Pirates on Saturday at Busch Stadium, arms folded, and spoke eagerly. The subject was a new bullpen option suddenly at his disposal, one with a profile Matheny described as "different" -- tall, left-handed, with a wipeout hook and the endurance of a starter. He was talking about Austin Gomber.

"We want to pitch him," Matheny said. "We want to see what we've got."

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The trick, Matheny said, was finding the ideal spot to fit Gomber in. The manager said he'd avoid close situations if he could, in an attempt to avoid a "hard baptism" for the rookie southpaw.

Then Saturday unfolded, and that's exactly the type of situation Gomber found himself in.

"It was pretty tight," Matheny said postgame with a smirk. "And he responded really well."

Tasked with holding a one-run lead in the sixth, Gomber tossed three innings of scoreless relief in his Major League debut after spending five days in St. Louis without appearing in a game last month.

"I figured this time when I came up I would get an opportunity to get into a game, and I'd show them what I can do," Gomber said. "When they told me I was in the game, everything else went away. This is a big spot. They threw me into the fire."

His debut culminated a steady four-year rise through the Cardinals' system, after he was drafted in the fourth round in 2014. The organization's Pitcher of the Year in 2017, Gomber went 4-3 with a 3.60 ERA across nine starts this season at Triple-A Memphis, striking out 16 batters in one game.

"I've worked a long time to get here," Gomber said. "So it's nice to fulfill a lifelong dream."

Flashing his signature overhand curveball, Gomber walked Austin Meadows before striking out Starling Marte and getting a ground-ball double play from Josh Bell in the sixth. He then struck out Colin Moran on his way to a 1-2-3 seventh. Gomber retired the heart of the Pirates' order in the sixth and seventh, and Matheny let him hit for himself in the bottom of the seventh in a bunting situation.

Matheny said Gomber would've taken the at-bat even if the game didn't call for a sacrifice at that time.

"He was pitching [well]," Matheny said. "When I saw the first two innings, I realized we needed him."

"I did not," Gomber paused before finishing, "Expect to get an at-bat today."

Gomber's effort saved a taxed bullpen minus Jordan Hicks and Sam Tuivailala and helped bridge the gap to the ninth after Luke Weaver battled through five innings. His presence gives the Cardinals options going forward. Gomber's experience as a starter allows him to throw multiple innings, as he did Saturday.

But the Cardinals also like the idea of his mechanics and curveball presenting a tough matchup for left-handed hitters. Lefties are slugging .520 against Tyler Lyons and Brett Cecil -- the two veteran lefties in the Cardinals' 'pen.

Joe Trezza is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @joetrezz.

St. Louis Cardinals, Austin Gomber