CLEVELAND -- When the Cardinals sent Johan Oviedo back down to Triple-A Memphis prior to Tuesday’s series opener at Progressive Field to make room for outfielder Lane Thomas on the active roster, they gave him a basic instruction.
“Just go pitch, pitch focused and land all of your pitches for strikes,” manager Mike Shildt said, recounting the conversation with Oviedo. “Let your defense work.”
That’s good advice, and it applies to this Cardinals staff, at large. Injuries are one reason the Cards’ staff ERA ranks in the middle of the pack in MLB this season, but walks and hit by pitches are another big one. St. Louis entered Tuesday with the highest walk rate (11.3 percent) and the most hit batsmen (73) in the Majors. The club's walk rate with the bases loaded (13.8) has been particularly pronounced and painful.
“I don’t want these guys to feel like they’ve got to be so fine,” Shildt said. “Clearly mistakes get hit. But the average miss of each pitch is about six inches each night, of guys missing their spot. The plate is 17 inches wide. Be on it, be under it, be over it, and you’ve got a better chance to get positive results.”
Cliché as it sounds, it starts with strike one. Shildt stressed that pitchers can’t try to get big league hitters to chase outside the zone for strike one. The hitters are too disciplined for that. Given their overall walk rate, it should come as no surprise that the Cardinals’ first-pitch strike percentage is also lacking this season. At 57.7%, it ranks last in the NL and second-to-last in MLB.
That’s what the Cardinals want to see from Oviedo. And that’s what they need to see from their big league staff overall.
Mikolas not a rotation option yet
Miles Mikolas, who is recovering from right forearm tightness, had his first rehab outing Saturday. He pitched three perfect innings for Triple-A Memphis on just 29 pitches, then got in more work off the bullpen mound. Mikolas will pitch for Memphis again Thursday and is again slated for about 45 pitches total.
Though Mikolas is progressing, he is not in play for the next time the Cardinals need a fifth starter.
“I think what we're looking to do is having him go another 45 [pitches], and make sure you’re built up to a certain point before you [ease] him in and then he's ready for us,” Shildt said. “So I think he’s still a little ways away for us.”
Same goes for Cardinals ace Jack Flaherty (left oblique strain), who made his first rehab start for Memphis on Tuesday night and threw two scoreless innings with one hit allowed and three strikeouts. Flaherty threw 31 pitches (21 strikes) in the outing.
“I think the earliest possibility [for Mikolas and Flaherty to rejoin the Cards] would be mid-August,” Shildt said.