Indians manager Terry Francona said before Wednesday's game that he would love to see rookie starting pitcher Jean Carlos Mejía "get outs" in his start against St. Louis.
And for two-thirds of an inning and nine pitches, Mejía did just that. But with two outs in the first inning and Tommy Edman on second following his leadoff double, everything fell apart. A walk to Nolan Arenado, followed by a single from Tyler O’Neill, a bases-loaded walk to Yadier Molina and a bases-clearing double by Matt Carpenter suddenly sent the Cardinals in front and Mejía packing in the Indians’ eventual 8-2 loss in Wednesday's finale at Busch Stadium.
“I think my stuff was playing well,” Mejía said through interpreter Agustin Rivero. “Everything was sharp around the zone. But it’s one of those days that you have to take it in and take it as a lesson, and just keep going forward.”
Mejía, who entered the night with a pitch limit of 75, left having thrown 38, 24 for strikes.
His signature sinker, which he threw 19 times, generated seven called strikes and whiffs. The right-hander was consistently just one pitch away from escaping the jam, however, a mix of competitive at-bats from the Cardinals and issues locating his offspeed pitches ultimately led to his and the Indians’ undoing.
“He looked like he had good stuff,” Francona said. “He was attacking, he was following [Austin Hedges], and then he just couldn't put anybody away.”
Mejía's start was the 54th instance in which an Indians rookie starter lasted just two-thirds of an inning, and the first since Trevor Bauer on June 28, 2013. The 24-year-old had come into the night with a pristine 0.00 ERA over eight innings pitched across four games (one start).
The night was a step back for Cleveland, which is currently without right-hander Zach Plesac, on the 10-day injured list with a right thumb injury.
“I think right now the main lesson from this will be to finish each batter and focus on finishing them entirely,” Mejía added. “Using all of my pitches, being able to combine them, but, most importantly, being able to finish all the batters.”
The Indians jumped ahead, 2-0, in the first inning, showcasing the same patience and bat-to-ball skills that made Tuesday’s 10-1 win possible, but soon enough Cardinals starter and stalwart Adam Wainwright settled in, keeping the Indians off the bases, including six no-hit innings across his seven-inning start. After the first inning, 26 of Cleveland's 27 batters that came up to the plate were retired by Wainwright and two relievers.
Wainwright's three hits allowed in the first inning were the only hits the Indians had all night. He struck out six Cleveland batters in his seven frames.
“First inning he didn't look like he had his ‘A’ stuff, but like a lot of good veterans, man, they got him those runs and he came out and just put on a clinic,” Francona said of Wainwright's performance. “He threw all his pitches [and] he changed speeds.
“The guys that he knew on our club that are aggressive, he made them chase. He was terrific. We had a really difficult time, obviously.”
Cleveland’s bullpen, which came into the game rested and with an off-day on Thursday, pitched 8 1/3 innings, allowing an additional four runs to score to match the four charged to Mejía.
“It's one of those things you kind of just have to go out there and wear it for the boys,” said Phil Maton, the first reliever to come into the game for Cleveland. “You've got to go out there and compete, you can't really think too much about it. Kind of trust your scouting report, trust the fingers that Hedges is putting out there and compete to the best of your ability."
Maton struck out five Cardinals batters in a row in his 2 1/3 innings of relief, but surrendered a two-run home run to O’Neill (the first of a two-homer game for the outfielder), in his final inning.
“[It] just came down to execution,” Maton added. “Had a really good feel for all three of my pitches today and whenever you can command all your stuff in the zone it definitely increases your chances to get some strikeouts.”
Cal Quantrill added an additional two innings of scoreless relief with two strikeouts of his own.
With the loss, Cleveland ended its short road trip 2-3, with a series loss to the Orioles and a split against the Cardinals. The club begins a seven game homestand against the Mariners and Orioles on Friday.