PITTSBURGH -- John Gant spent 5 1/3 innings Friday night at PNC Park in something akin to limbo, somehow both at the center and on the periphery of the Cardinals' impending roster shakeup. Two times through the Pirates' order, he looked little like a pitcher whose days in the rotation
PITTSBURGH -- John Gant spent 5 1/3 innings Friday night at PNC Park in something akin to limbo, somehow both at the center and on the periphery of the Cardinals' impending roster shakeup. Two times through the Pirates' order, he looked little like a pitcher whose days in the rotation were numbered. Then after he left, it didn't take much imagination to see how he could help the Cardinals in the middle innings, where St. Louis spiraled to an 8-1 loss to the Pirates.
The versatile righty has spent much of his short big league career doing both, a hybrid-type arm who can yo-yo between the bullpen and the rotation. But the realities of the Cardinals' roster picture, coupled with his recent string of starts, mean he's unlikely to do either, in the short-term, at this level.
"How he threw today, you can kind of see him doing just about anything," Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said. "But when you have that kind of stuff and four-pitch ability like that, that's probably something that needs to continue to start."
Such opportunities figure to be scarce going forward, with No. 1 prospect Alex Reyes' arrival now days away. Carlos Martinez's return from the disabled list will thereafter force a tough rotation decision that Gant is unlikely to factor into. But for a good portion of Friday night, Gant made his case and made it well. Only after striking out seven over five scoreless frames did the righty crack in the sixth, when the Pirates turned a single, a double and a hit batsman into three runs.
"Up until that point, what was there not to like?" Matheny said. "He was controlling counts, getting swings and misses with the slider, getting strikes with the curveball. Elevating. That changeup was extremely good. He did a very nice job."
Gant was in no way responsible for the onslaught of runs that came after, when Pittsburgh added five against Brett Cecil, John Brebbia and Greg Holland. Cecil allowed two inherited runners to score in the sixth, then another in the seventh. Brebbia's misplay on a comebacker led to two runs, and Holland allowed two extra-base hits in a two-run eighth that featured a bevy of hard-hit balls. Together they provided a snapshot of the Cardinals' middle-innings picture that Matheny described as "full of unanswered questions and opportunities for guys to take advantage of."
"Today," Matheny said. "It kinda got blown up."
Meanwhile, the Cardinals mustered nothing in support against Joe Musgrove, who twirled seven shutout frames in his season debut. St. Louis squandered leadoff doubles in the fifth and seventh, only pushing through on a Tommy Pham solo homer off Michael Feliz in the eighth.
"We can jack the lineup up every day, but sooner or later we've got to string together some hits," Matheny said.
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Pham has perhaps been the Cardinals' most important offensive player for much of the season. They've been able to weather prolonged slumps from important veterans largely because of Pham's production from the leadoff spot. His impressive homer to right-center broke an 0-for-17 funk, Pham's first significant slump of the season.
"It all starts with me," said Pham. "I have to do a better job offensively of getting on base. I'll figure it out. I wouldn't worry about me. I'm a warrior."
Holland allowed at least two earned runs in an inning or less of work for the fourth consecutive outing. That tied Rob Murphy for the longest such streak in Cardinals history. Murphy set the dubious mark in June 1993.</p.>
HE SAID IT
"I don't know. It was the same, unfortunately." -- Matheny, on what he saw from Holland
Two young, talented righties square off when this series continues Saturday, with the Cards' Jack Flaherty (1-1, 2.31 ERA) and the Bucs' Trevor Williams (5-2, 3.05 ERA) lining up. Coming off a 13-strikeout performance, Flaherty will throw to catcher Carson Kelly, who is set to return from the disabled list. Left-hander Tyler Lyons is also likely to be activated prior to first pitch, set for 3:05 pm CT at PNC Park.
Joe Trezza is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @joetrezz.