NEW YORK -- When the Cardinals acquired Marcell Ozuna from the Marlins over the winter, they envisioned him bringing production to the cleanup spot unlike the club has seen in years. The first glimpse of that potential was plain to see Sunday, when Ozuna's first run-scoring hits as a Cardinal
NEW YORK -- When the Cardinals acquired Marcell Ozuna from the Marlins over the winter, they envisioned him bringing production to the cleanup spot unlike the club has seen in years. The first glimpse of that potential was plain to see Sunday, when Ozuna's first run-scoring hits as a Cardinal helped St. Louis to a 5-1 win against the Mets at Citi Field, their first win of the season.
Ozuna finished with three hits, Paul DeJong homered twice and Yadier Molina added a solo shot as St. Louis avoided an opening series sweep.
"It was nice to see the pressure right from the beginning," Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said. "Pauly having a big day. Yadi hit a bomb. It was nice getting Ozuna going and Tommy Pham seeing the ball a little better. Both of those are huge pieces for us."
After struggling to string together rallies for much of the season's first two games against the Mets' top two starters, the Cardinals offense clicked like it was constructed to against New York lefty Steven Matz, who labored through four innings in his first start after winning a rotation spot this spring. Three of the top four hitters in St. Louis' lineup reached base multiple times, with Pham reaching four times and Ozuna twice punctuating rallies with RBI hits.
Molina and DeJong added thump from the bottom of the lineup in support of Luke Weaver, who earned the win with five effective if inefficient innings. A trio of St. Louis relievers finished the game, with Matt Bowman, Jordan Hicks and Dominic Leone teaming up to throw four scoreless frames.
"A grind was the perfect definition for it," said Weaver, who began his postgame interview by wishing any celebrating Cardinals fans a happy Easter. "Though it wasn't a perfect outing, it was one I think I can build off."
Weaver became the first of three Cardinals starters to finish five innings this season, and the second-year righty squirmed his way out of several jams to do so. His regular season began without the crispness that defined his spring, which he spent as the Cardinals' most dominant starter. Weaver needed 27 pitches in the first inning Sunday, then 21 more in a frustrating fourth.
But Weaver was able to wiggle out of jams both times. He won a nine-pitch battle to freeze Wilmer Flores to end the first, then escaped a first-and-second jam in the fourth, mixing deep into his four-pitch arsenal early and often.
"It was one of those games where you have to do some trickery, keep them off balance, and be that magician," Weaver said.
Matheny planned to pitch Leone, the club's ostensible closer until newly-signed Greg Holland joins the team later this month, regardless of the score. The offense ensured Leone's club debut, over which he threw a scoreless ninth, came in a non-save situation.
DeJong's two homers bookended the scoring. In between, Ozuna yanked an RBI double off Matz in the third and sent a ground ball into left field for a run-scoring single in the fifth. The Cardinals' new cleanup hitter walked into Matheny's office after Saturday's loss, vowing to halt his early-season struggles. Ozuna went hitless over St. Louis' first two games and began the season 0-for-9.
"He told me about something small he was doing with his hands," Matheny said. "I said, 'Sounds good to me. Go ahead.' He went ahead."
Ozuna said the adjustment was more mental. "I have a different mentality that can change my approach," Ozuna said. "We're getting better. It's only been three days. We can't tell what this is going to be yet."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Two for Paul: DeJong set a Cardinals rookie record with 25 home runs from the shortstop position in his initial season. But he didn't have a multi-homer game until Sunday. His first long ball opened the scoring off Matz in the second. His second home run came off Jacob Rhame in the eighth. More >
Matz done after four: In his first start since undergoing surgery on his pitching elbow last August, Matz gave up two solo homers and was pulled by manager Mickey Callaway after four innings and 89 pitches. The lefty touched 95 mph with his fastball and limited the Cardinals to three runs, but he walked three batters as his pitch count rose quickly. Callaway replaced Matz with pinch-hitter Adrian Gonzalez with a runner on first in the bottom of the fourth. Gonzalez drew a walk but Amed Rosario grounded out to end the inning.
"[New pitching coach] Mike Maddux tells us to ask ourselves: 'How good is your bad game?' I wouldn't say today was a bad game, but it was really one where I had to throw the kitchen sink and rely on defense. It was one of those ones that makes me know I can only get better from here." -- Weaver
Miles Mikolas' first Major League start in more than 3 1/2 years is set for Monday against the Brewers, when the Cardinals open a three-game set in Milwaukee at 1:10 p.m. CT. Mikolas rebounded after struggling early in spring, logging a 1.06 ERA over his last 17 innings pitched in Grapefruit League play.
Joe Trezza is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @joetrezz.