ST. LOUIS -- Cardinals manager Mike Matheny tries to stress an encouraging message each time he informs a player he's being sent back to the Minors, which these days, in these parts, qualifies as a near-daily requirement of the job. The realities of roster construction lend teams to value depth
ST. LOUIS -- Cardinals manager Mike Matheny tries to stress an encouraging message each time he informs a player he's being sent back to the Minors, which these days, in these parts, qualifies as a near-daily requirement of the job. The realities of roster construction lend teams to value depth above much else, clubs shuttling the more flexible of their 40-man assets back and forth with high frequency.
On a personal level, Matheny tries to reinforce the notion that each are vital parts of the long-term plan. Most optionable players will be back over the scope of a 162-game season, filling necessary roles. Take for example John Gant, who is likely to return to Triple-A Memphis following a 6-0 loss to the Twins on Monday night at Busch Stadium.
Gant, who made his first start of the season in place of Adam Wainwright, is part of what Matheny calls his "bigger roster," along with several other members who took the field in the series opener.
"It's not a fun message when you're that guy, but you get here and get thrown into it and need to stay ready, and not let an opportunity slip away," Matheny said. "They need to stay sharp."
That much is trumpeted across baseball, where even the best teams pluck from a talent pool larger than ever. Monday's loss snapped a five-game win streak for the Cardinals, who remain in first place in the National League Central at this early juncture. Yet the need for depth is apparent in every corner of the clubhouse, from the bullpen to behind the plate. Gant tossed 5 1/3 innings to batterymate Carson Kelly, who is subbing for the injured Yadier Molina. Harrison Bader started in center for the injured Tommy Pham. Ryan Sherriff and Matt Bowman, both optionable relievers, carried the load for a bullpen that provided 8 2/3 innings the previous game against the Cubs on Sunday.
In all, 36 members of the club's 40-man roster have donned a St. Louis uniform this season.
"Austin Gomber and Luke Voit didn't really get into the action, but the rest, not only have they gotten into the action, but we've gotten a few wins with what they've been able to do," Matheny said.
Neither regular nor replacement was immune to the sluggishness of Monday night. The Cardinals mustered three harmless hits against winning pitcher Fernando Romero, who fired six scoreless innings in his second Major League start.
Gant allowed four runs on six hits, before the Twins tacked on two more runs off Sherriff in the eighth. Cardinals hitters struck out 12 times in total, seven of them looking. It marked the second time this season they'd been blanked by a rookie pitcher.
"At times guys were thinking [the third strikes] weren't that close, and then they'd go back and check and see they were probably close enough,' Matheny said. "That's one of the challenges you get with a guy you haven't seen before. You're trying to figure out what the ball is going to do when it comes out of his hand."
MOMENT THAT MATTERED
The Cardinals' best scoring chance came in the first as William Fowler sent a deep opposite-field drive off Romero on his first swing since swatting a dramatic walk-off home run on Sunday against the Cubs. Jason Heyward came inches from robbing that blast, and Twins left fielder Eddie Rosario actually nabbed this one as he went over the wall to preserve a 2-0 lead.
"It was an out," Fowler said. "That's all that matters."
Matheny saw more meaning.
"That was surprising," he said. "That was probably the best ball Dex has hit the other way all season. It's a 2-2 game at that point. It took a bit of wind out of us."
YOU GOTTA SEE THIS
Bader continued to showcase defensive skills the Cardinals long considered could be elite, ranging every which way to make a bevy of impressive plays in center. With Statcast™, there is data to back it up. Bader entered play tied for the MLB lead in Outs Above Average, and in sole possession of first -- by a large margin -- in Catch Probability. He did nothing to hurt those rankings on Monday.
"I firmly believe you're only as good a defender as you put into it," Bader said. "It's all about attitude and effort every day. It comes naturally because I work tirelessly on it."
HE SAID IT
"He had a funky arm motion where he was more out in front, like a [Max Scherzer] style. He was effective." -- Bader, on Romero
Cardinals ace Carlos Martinez (3-1, 1.40 ERA), who is unbeaten over his past six starts, gets the ball at 12:15 p.m. CT on Tuesday for the finale of this two-game Interleague set against the Twins at Busch Stadium. Righty Jake Odorizzi (2-2, 4.10), who grew up 40 miles east of St. Louis in Breese, Ill., will make the start for Minnesota.
Joe Trezza is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @joetrezz.