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Bullpen scuffles, bats go quiet in loss to Twins

MLB.com @JoeTrezz

MINNEAPOLIS -- As he sunk, spun and sank his way into one of the better setup men of the last decade, Luke Gregerson was at his best against right-handed hitters. Combine the way Gregerson manipulated the baseball with the funky angle from which he threw, and Gregerson made a career of creating uncomfortable matchups for righties.

It's a skill that's largely eluded Gregerson during the first six weeks with his new club, a period he described as "hit or miss." Tuesday's 4-1 loss to the Twins was the latest example. Called on to preserve a tie game in the seventh, Gregerson allowed hits to the two righties he faced, the most notable being a two-run home run to Bobby Wilson that gave Minnesota a late cushion. Righties are hitting .315 and slugging .611 off Gregerson this season, a far cry from the .201/.249/.326 line he's held them to over his career.

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MINNEAPOLIS -- As he sunk, spun and sank his way into one of the better setup men of the last decade, Luke Gregerson was at his best against right-handed hitters. Combine the way Gregerson manipulated the baseball with the funky angle from which he threw, and Gregerson made a career of creating uncomfortable matchups for righties.

It's a skill that's largely eluded Gregerson during the first six weeks with his new club, a period he described as "hit or miss." Tuesday's 4-1 loss to the Twins was the latest example. Called on to preserve a tie game in the seventh, Gregerson allowed hits to the two righties he faced, the most notable being a two-run home run to Bobby Wilson that gave Minnesota a late cushion. Righties are hitting .315 and slugging .611 off Gregerson this season, a far cry from the .201/.249/.326 line he's held them to over his career.

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"We're just trying to get him right," Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said. "Minor setbacks have kind of kept him from getting really locked in. We know what he can do when he's right."

Tuesday it was a hanging slider Wilson seemed to be looking for -- Gregerson's signature weapon against righties -- that sealed the reliever's night. But it was the grip on a batted ball two batters before that more severely changed the game. After fielding a Byron Buxton bunt in front of the mound, Gregerson yanked a throw into right field that allowed Logan Morrison to score the go-ahead run. Coupled with their continued offensive struggles, the sloppy play sent the Cardinals to their third straight loss.

Video: STL@MIN: Morrison scores go-ahead run on error in 7th

"I've made that play numerous times in my career," Gregerson said. "I just didn't have a very good grip on the ball. I tried to force the throw and it got away from me."

Morrison was in scoring position after winning another platoon disadvantage when he doubled off losing pitcher Brett Cecil to leadoff the frame. Together with Greg Holland, Cecil and Gregerson comprise a veteran relief core that, due to injuries and ineffectiveness, has been slow to gel. Much of the first six weeks for Matheny has been an exercise in "getting them right," the manager said.

"That's been the conversation," Matheny said. "Figuring out ways to get them in a good place."

After returning from the disabled list and impressing with the sharpness of his stuff this weekend in San Diego, Cecil was called upon in the sixth Tuesday to replace rookie Jack Flaherty. Making his third start of the year and first since returning from Triple-A Memphis, Flaherty allowed his only run on the last of his 98 pitches, when Eduardo Escobar's game-tying single scored Brian Dozier. The Cardinals' offense offered little support against winning pitcher Jose Berrios, who struck out 10 and allowed one run over 7 1/3 innings.

"The last pitch to Escobar was where I wanted to put it, there was nothing I could do about it," Flaherty said. "Disappointing ending, that's for sure."

Video: STL@MIN: Flaherty gets Rosario swinging in the 1st

MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
No rush, nice and easy: Knowing his throw to first would need to beat perhaps the game's fastest runner sprinting down the line, Gregerson tried to make sure he took his time and fielded Buxton's bunt cleanly. But the pressure created by Buxton's speed, mixed with Gregerson's faulty grip ultimately forced the errant throw. According to Statcast™, Buxton made it to first in just 3.73 seconds, his fastest time to first this season.

"I didn't feel like I rushed to get there," Gregerson said. "Tried to make a nice, under control play, and didn't get a good grip on it."

Said Matheny: "That's a play we make 99 times out of 100."

Video: STL@MIN: Statcast™ measures Buxton's sprint speed

SOUND SMART
Playing without slumping Dexter Fowler but with Matt Carpenter back in the lineup, the Cardinals managed two hits against Berrios, Addison Reed and Fernando Rodney. It was the third game this season they've collected two or fewer hits, something they did once once across all of 2017. St. Louis has now scored five runs over its last 32 innings.

"We haven't clicked this season. We really haven't, for an extended period of time," Matheny said. "We're not in July. It's still early in the season. It's going to come around but until it does we're going to have to answer questions like these, and I get it because I see where you guys are coming from. I see what you're seeing. I see it, too. But I see what this offense is going to do, and it's a whole lot of just hot air until it happens."

HE SAID IT
"The sinker has helped him so much. There were times he threw it tonight where I had to ask what it was. It had so much depth to it. We couldn't see which way it was breaking from our side, but from the way it's running you can see it's moving a lot." -- Matheny, on Flaherty

UP NEXT
The Cardinals will dig in against an old friend in Wednesday's matinee, when Lance Lynn (1-3, 7.34) faces his former club for the first time. St. Louis will counter with Miles Mikolas (5-0, 2.51), whom the club chose to pursue in free agency instead of Lynn. The two righties couldn't have had more dissimilar starts: Lynn's doubled his walk rate while Mikolas has quickly become one of the game's best strike-throwers. First pitch is set for 12:10 pm CT from Target Field.

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

St. Louis Cardinals