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Leone brings fresh arm to Cardinals' bullpen

Shildt confident Carpenter can turn down season around
@anne__rogers
August 22, 2019

ST. LOUIS -- In need of a fresh bullpen arm, the Cardinals recalled right-hander Dominic Leone from Triple-A Memphis and optioned right-hander Junior Fernandez on Thursday. Fernandez threw two innings in the Cardinals’ 5-3 rain-shortened loss to the Brewers on Wednesday night, walking two and striking out two, including Ryan

ST. LOUIS -- In need of a fresh bullpen arm, the Cardinals recalled right-hander Dominic Leone from Triple-A Memphis and optioned right-hander Junior Fernandez on Thursday.

Fernandez threw two innings in the Cardinals’ 5-3 rain-shortened loss to the Brewers on Wednesday night, walking two and striking out two, including Ryan Braun with the bases loaded to end the top of the sixth inning. He threw 41 pitches, so the rookie would have been shut down for the next few days.

“He got himself in a little trouble, but he was able to right his own ship,” Cardinals manager Mike Shildt said. “That’s a good trait to have, get in trouble, get on your heels a little bit and say, ‘You know what, I got this.’ And just go get it.”

Since making his Major League debut Aug. 11, Fernandez has a 3.60 ERA in five games (five innings) with seven strikeouts.

“He’s got a nice arm, good slider,” Shildt said. “Didn’t see the changeup as much as he’s thrown in the past, but it’s a comfort thing. You get up here and want to compete with what you have and what you feel you can ride with the most. He did a nice job.”

Leone made his fourth stint with the Cardinals this season when he entered Thursday’s game in the top of the seventh inning and threw five pitches to get three quick outs and keep the Cardinals within one of the Rockies before Dexter Fowler hit the game-winning home run in the bottom of the seventh.

Entering Thursday, Leone had a 7.14 ERA in 28 games (29 innings). He was optioned to Memphis on July 20, and since then, he had a 0.73 ERA in 12 1/3 innings with the Redbirds with 23 strikeouts and just two walks.

“I think just being aggressive in the zone is key,” Leone said. “The hitting is not much different down there as it is here, that’s why they’re one level below. You still have to execute and be sharp. Just attacking the zone seemed to be effective.”

Carpenter sits, but has confidence from Shildt

Matt Carpenter was out of Thursday’s lineup against the Rockies, and Shildt talked at length pregame about the third baseman’s struggles this year, which has seen career lows in batting average (.212), OBP (.321), slugging (.363) and OPS (.684). Tommy Edman played third base and went 2-for-4 in the seventh spot.

Carpenter drew a pinch-hit walk in the bottom of the seventh inning to set up Fowler’s two-run, go-ahead home run, and Shildt was pleased with Carpenter’s at-bat.

“He went up there and took a tremendous at-bat to set the table for Dex,” Shildt said. “That needs to be appreciated, and you could say that that’s his job, well it is his job, and he did his job well. And he came off the bench with the right kind of mindset and took a tough, quality at-bat.”

Before Thursday's game, Shildt made it clear that Carpenter will continue to see playing time because he believes Carpenter can and will help the Cardinals fight for the division.

“We’re not going to excuse the fact that he’s not been as good as he or we would like,” Shildt said. “We’ve made the adjustment in [Thursday’s] lineup. We also know that if we can get him going, and if he can get himself going, we’ve got a guy that can help propel this team and make our road a lot easier to win this division and win the World Series. If we can get that production, and we’re not going to get it by just sitting him cold. … We’ll ride with it. If not, we’ll continue to evaluate it.”

Shildt also explained why he has confidence in Carpenter: He's done it before. In 2018, he was the hottest hitter in baseball for a stretch, and he finished ninth in the MVP race after a career-high 36 home runs.

“The reality is this is a guy that last year, this time last year, I don’t want to say carried us, because a lot of people did a lot of things well that allowed us to make a run in the second half when effectively we were left for dead,” Shildt said. “He was the guy leading that charge. You need to have a little longer memory sometimes.”

There’s a balance between a long memory and results in 2019, Shildt said, and the lineup reflects that. But the Cardinals are confident in Carpenter, and it shows in the patience they have as he works on his swing and searches for consistency in his at-bats.

“The crux of it is that people forget is -- maybe not forget, maybe there just needs to be a reminder of why those high expectations exist,” Shildt said. “Why the question about him getting an opportunity for him to play? Because he’s created high expectations. Why the frustration that he doesn’t execute? Because the expectations are high, which is earned. … It comes with the territory. But a little bit of grace and patience to say, ‘Hey, let’s work through it and figure it out so we can get back to the expectations that we all have.’”

Martinez cautious with shoulder

Jose Martinez (right AC joint sprain) got more work in on the field Thursday afternoon, including some throwing drills, but the right fielder is being cautious about his rehab. Depending on how he feels after Thursday, he could begin a rehab stint at the end of this weekend or early next week

“It’s a process,” Martinez said. “This shoulder stuff is kind of dangerous, you have to be careful with it. You can’t just go out there and throw 10-12 baseballs and get back in the game. Going out there and trying to be a hero is not good.”

Martinez has swung the bat some, and the pain in his shoulder -- which he describes as a “pinch” -- has gone down, along with the inflammation.

Anne Rogers covers the Royals for MLB.com. Follow her on Twitter @anne__rogers and on Facebook.