The Cardinals lost some ground in their chase for a postseason berth on Thursday, and they’re hoping they didn’t lose something even more important. Right-hander Dakota Hudson departed after two innings with what Cardinals manager Mike Shildt called “a mild forearm strain,” and things spiraled from there in a 5-1 loss to the Pirates at PNC Park.
St. Louis collected just two hits -- singles by Kolten Wong and Tommy Edman -- as Pirates right-hander Steven Brault got 10 groundouts and eight strikeouts on his way to a 110-pitch complete game.
Brault's walk to Yadier Molina in the fourth inning was the last baserunner for the Cardinals, as Brault retired 16 in a row after that against a Cardinals club that scored just 11 runs while losing three of five in Milwaukee earlier this week.
Thursday’s defeat marked the seventh in the past 10 games for the Cardinals, who fell a half-game behind the Reds, at 22-24. The Reds have more losses, at 25-26, but the Cardinals are scheduled to play 10 games in the final 12 days of the regular season, plus a possible makeup doubleheader against the Tigers after the final day of the season, if needed.
More daunting at the moment is that the Cardinals are confronting the unsettling possibility of losing Hudson, who is so important to the club that he was lined up to pitch the final game of the season. Hudson said his elbow tightened up in the second inning, and after the frame, he approached pitching coach Mike Maddux and told him he had a problem.
X-rays showed no structural damage, and Hudson will undergo an MRI on Friday.
“I'm pretty hopeful,” Hudson said. “I guess I'm really not stressing too much about it until I know more tomorrow. I've got a good mindset about it, and just trying to make sure I keep my head up.”
Since the Cardinals returned from their coronavirus outbreak on Aug. 15, Hudson entered Thursday with a 2.20 ERA, a .144 opposing batting average and had allowed more than two earned runs only once. In his most recent start, he allowed the Reds one run in six innings of a 7-1 Cardinals victory.
“Just working through some tightness, figured it was better to take a step back and make sure everything was OK before going forward,” Hudson said. “I felt good all the way up to that second inning. Hopefully, I'll get more information tomorrow.”
Likewise, Shildt remained hopeful that the injury isn’t serious, and he praised Hudson for being proactive in communicating that something was amiss.
“All things factored in, it’s fairly low,” Shildt said of his level of concern. “Certainly, there's some worry because he was taken out of the game."
Hudson’s short appearance sent the Cardinals into scramble mode. Lefty Austin Gomber, who’d been penciled in to start Game 2 of Friday’s doubleheader, entered the game in the third inning and allowed four earned runs in 1 2/3 innings.
So, Shildt will go with right-hander Daniel Ponce de Leon in Game 2 on Friday. That doubleheader will be the Cardinals' third in a five-day stretch.
“You look at our schedule, we're grinding, man,” second baseman Kolten Wong said. “It’s one of those things where we're putting together good at-bats and playing as hard as we can. When you’ve been playing the schedule we have, it’s taxing on everybody. We’re trying to stay locked in, forget about tonight and come in tomorrow ready to go.”
When the Cardinals returned last month, they knew that the schedule would be both a physical and mental challenge. But as they continue to point out, they still control their postseason destiny.
For anyone questioning the club's attitude, effort or any of that intangible stuff, the Cardinals aren’t buying it.
“I think the only thing we want to see change is more W’s,” reliever Andrew Miller said. “It’s a winning group of guys. Everybody has had quite a challenge this year. I think ours has been, you know, special. I think everybody probably thinks that about them. This is a resilient team, and we know what we’re capable of. I don't think we're far off at all. It's just that surviving what's going on right now is a challenge.”