CINCINNATI -- Paul DeJong said that Thursday night’s two-hit effort against the Reds would be “easy to flush.”
The Cardinals did more than forget about it Friday night.
In their 13-4 rout of the Reds, the Cardinals rapped 18 hits, the most they’ve had this season, and matched their hit total from the past three games with 15 by the sixth inning.
Those 18 hits were the most St. Louis has collected against the Reds since August 2013.
“We had a really good gameplan, and guys were locked in and really convicted about the execution of the plan,” Cardinals manager Mike Shildt said. “The whole batting lineup did a really nice job. Tonight, we were able to get the damage as a reward for it.”
Four Cardinals had home runs in four different innings: Dexter Fowler in the second, DeJong in the third, Paul Goldschmidt in the fifth and Kolten Wong in the seventh, his 50th career home run.
The damage done up and down the lineup and the runs scored put the Cardinals in sole possession of first place in the National League Central, one game ahead of the Cubs, who sustained their second straight walk-off loss Friday night.
The most encouraging part of the offensive breakout was that it came against Reds All-Star starter Luis Castillo, who had a 2.69 ERA going into Friday night and had a 1.13 ERA in his last four starts against the Cardinals, including two this season when he’s given up just one run apiece.
“A lot of us haven’t had -- well, the league hasn’t had much success against him,” Fowler said. “We got some good pitches to hit and put them in play.”
The Cardinals’ offense has been inconsistent with results this season, and it hadn’t been able to muster much against quality starters like Castillo. What has been consistent, though, is the Cardinals’ ability to work opposing starters into deep counts. They did it against Sonny Gray on Thursday, who had a no-hitter going into the fifth inning, but finished that frame at 97 pitches.
And it happened again Friday night against Castillo. The right-hander threw 31 pitches in the first inning, including a nine-pitch at-bat against Tommy Edman and an eight-pitch at-bat against Marcell Ozuna.
This time, though, the Cardinals reaped the benefits of working a starter into a high pitch count. Fowler’s home run on a 3-0 count -- his second 3-0 homer this year -- came on Castillo’s 50th pitch of the night with two outs in the top of the second inning.
“That first inning, I think that set us up well,” Cardinals starter Adam Wainwright, who gave up four runs (three earned) in 6 2/3 innings and had a base hit in the second inning, said. “When you can work a pitcher, get him grinding out there, working tough at-bats, 3-2, fouling off, fouling off, that takes its toll. As a pitcher, if you don’t come back with a quick one in the second inning, that can really mount up on you.”
The Cardinals leaned into their strategy of working Castillo into deep counts and a higher pitch count, and they were able to chase him from the game after 4 1/3 innings.
“He’s one of the best in the game,” Wong, who went 4-for-5 on Friday, said. “You have to approach the guy with the respect and just try to wear him out. Everyone came in with the same mindset that we were going to make him work a little bit. Try to swing at strikes -- he has a lot of movement to his ball. He’s a really good pitcher, we just wanted to make sure we didn’t give away at-bats against him.”