ST. LOUIS -- It only took a quick glance around Busch Stadium early Thursday to see why this qualified as a big start for Luke Weaver. Alex Reyes galloped in from the bullpen under the high afternoon sky, giddy at the thought of returning by month's end. Jack Flaherty trailed
ST. LOUIS -- It only took a quick glance around Busch Stadium early Thursday to see why this qualified as a big start for Luke Weaver. Alex Reyes galloped in from the bullpen under the high afternoon sky, giddy at the thought of returning by month's end. Jack Flaherty trailed him, back in the big leagues and intent on staying. Soon after, club officials drove home their hope that Carlos Martinez's disabled list stint would be a short one.
Through the lens of all these moving parts, one could reasonably view Weaver's start as something of an audition. And if it was, he responded. Weaver was at little fault in the Cardinals' 6-2 loss to the Phillies, matching a career high with seven strong innings. He was simply outdueled by Vince Velasquez, who became the latest starter to quell the Cardinals' lineup for a good chunk of a night.
"That was a fantastic start," Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said of Weaver. "Exactly what we were looking for. It's a shame it wasn't enough."
It wasn't largely because the Cardinals left seven men on base over the final three frames, including the bases loaded while down four runs in the ninth. But by that point they were playing catch-up, scraping to stay alive on a night Velasquez and Weaver spent most of matching zeros. Only against relievers Jordan Hicks and John Brebbia did the Phillies feast for five runs. Weaver allowed just one, on a Carlos Santana solo homer in the fifth, and finished by battling out of a first-and-third jam two innings later. Relying heavily on a swing-and-miss changeup, the righty struck out six against one walk, scattering four hits in all.
Weaver's second strong outing in a row came after a four-start stretch over which the righty pitched to a 9.35 ERA, amid whispers that his status in the rotation may be tenuous. His outing Thursday did more to alleviate those doubts than his five-inning win over the Padres last time out.
"Every game is a big game, but that last game for me felt really big," Weaver said. "Now to roll it over to today was huge. I know I can pitch. I have to keep going and the results will show."
Matheny spent another postgame press conference saying the same thing about his offense, which failed to carry much momentum over from its 13-hit outburst a day ago in Minnesota. Velasquez held St. Louis to five harmless hits over 6 1/3 scoreless frames, breezing through three turns through the Cardinals lineup thanks to an equal scattering of strikeouts, ground outs and fly outs.
The Cardinals didn't threaten until the seventh, when a misplay in left field turned a Matt Carpenter fly ball into a double, placing runners on second and third. Two routine outs later against Seranthony Dominguez, they came up empty. They scraped two runs off Yacksel Rios and Luis Garcia in the eighth, before Matheny sent Harrison Bader to the plate for Carpenter with two outs, representing the go-ahead run. Bader flew out harmlessly. Paul DeJong and Marcell Ozuna made the final two outs against Edubray Ramos in the ninth, stranding three runners apiece. Ozuna left eight men on base, and is now 0-for-his-last-16.
"When you're not seeing success, your confidence goes down. Even for a guy who has a lot of confidence," Matheny said. "In the meanwhile, you have to keep fighting."
MOMENT THAT MATTERED
Cut down twice: Anxious to make something happen with his club so starved for runs, twice Matheny directed a runner at third to run on contact in a late-inning situation. Twice the runner was thrown out at the plate. First it was William Fowler, who took off on a Francisco Pena grounder to short in the seventh, with the infield in. Next inning Jose Martinez was thrown out at home by Santana, who made the aggressive decision to fire home on a slow chopper.
YOU GOTTA SEE THIS
Fowler was only on third because of a weird play a batter before, when Phillies outfielders Odubel Herrera and Rhys Hoskins failed to communicate on a routine Carpenter fly ball to left center. How routine was what turned into a double for Carpenter? Hoskins had a 99 percent catch probability, according to Statcast™. Herrera makes the play 80 percent of the time, according to Statcast™. Instead it fell in between them, sending Velasquez from the game and setting up the Cardinals' first rally of the night.
HE SAID IT
"Any decision where I pull a player … that's never something you take lightly. I felt like that was our best chance. You go with what you think will give you the best chance to win a game right there. We like Harrison's at-bats against lefties, so that's the shot we took." -- Matheny, on pinch-hitting the rookie Bader for Carpenter, who is hitting .164 on the year
MITEL REPLAY OF THE DAY
An odd bounce off both DeJong's bat and left hand -- simultaneously -- made Matheny initially pause before challenging in the eighth. Originally ruled a foul ball, umpires determined Garcia's pitch caught enough of DeJong's flesh to grant him first base, setting up a bases-loaded situation for Ozuna, representing the go-ahead run. Ozuna grounded into a fielder's choice, driving home St. Louis' second run. But the call on DeJong, overturned after a 39-second review, could've led to much more.
"I wasn't confident [it hit him] when I saw his response," Matheny said. "He told me it got both, hand and bat. It didn't sound like wood. And he's a little sore. It hit him. We want guys to go to first base. We're four runs down right there."
With Martinez and Adam Wainwright on the disabled list, suddenly Michael Wacha qualifies as the senior most member of the Cardinals rotation. He's also been one of the most durable. Wacha (4-1, 3.09 ERA) will make his ninth start of the year when this series continues Friday at 7:15 p.m. CT from Busch Stadium. Jacob Arrieta (3-1, 2.59 ERA) opposes after years of facing the Cardinals as a member of the Cubs.
Joe Trezza is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @joetrezz.