ST. LOUIS -- Over three years as a baseball expat in Japan, Miles Mikolas fell for Tonkotsu ramen. The pork broth noodle dish became his favorite food, one he can't find a replica of in St. Louis, no matter how hard he tries. The fruitless search qualifies as a major
ST. LOUIS -- Over three years as a baseball expat in Japan, Miles Mikolas fell for Tonkotsu ramen. The pork broth noodle dish became his favorite food, one he can't find a replica of in St. Louis, no matter how hard he tries. The fruitless search qualifies as a major hiccup in his transition back to the big leagues.
Meanwhile the baseball part of that transition -- by far the more difficult -- continues to go smoothly. If nothing else, the Cardinals knew they were getting a high-ceiling starter who could command multiple pitches when they outbid several clubs for Mikolas this offseason. But few could forsee Mikolas adjusting this well, this quickly, or his manager describing him in such superlatives after just four starts.
"He's a horse, strong as a bull," Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said on Sunday, when seven more strong innings from Mikolas backed a 9-2 win over the Reds at Busch Stadium. "He can be one of those guys, from what we've seen in a number of starts now, we can be standing out there with a low pitch count. And that gives us the ability to push him further."
So far the Cardinals haven't, to little fault of Mikolas. Twice in eight days they've curbed efficient starts of his after seven crisp innings, signaling to their new right-hander that he'd done enough. More than enough, given the bubble mystery he arrived wrapped in. Before this season, Mikolas' full big league resume consistency of 91 1/3 innings and 10 starts across three partial seasons.
"I'd never seen him pitch even one time [before Spring Training]," remembered Adam Wainwright, who was placed on the 10-day disabled list prior to the game. "I didn't know how he used his stuff. But I did know he had incredible stuff. He throws the easiest 95 I've ever seen."
It's becoming apparent what Mikolas has, besides a taste for noodles. Two fastballs, that range between 90-96 mph. A slider and a curve, that Mikolas combined to use half the time on Sunday. A split-changeup that mimics the slider's speed and darts downward. A propensity to fill up the zone. And after four starts, a 3-0 record and a 3.46 ERA.
"He's had a history of being in the strike zone, which makes him efficient," Matheny said. "But the stuff keeps getting better in our eyes."
Mikolas needed just 85 pitches (67 strikes) to mostly breeze through three turns of the Reds' lineup on Sunday, scattering five hits and allowing two runs (one earned). He struck out six and walked none, using his five-pitch mix to hold a narrow lead for much of the soggy afternoon in his new home stadium. Home runs from Kolten Wong and Paul DeJong paced the offense, which broke the game open with two late rallies.
All of which overshadowed a bit of Mikolas' effort after missing barrels all afternoon while cradling a small lead.
"It's about being more comfortable, realizing if I make good pitches, good things are going to happen," Mikolas said. "We're talking about a team that has accepted me into their ranks."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
DeJong's homers tend to come in bunches, and the sophomore shortstop appears to be getting on a roll. He has now gone deep in two straight games and hasn't struck out in 12 plate appearances. That's as good an indicator as any that the contact-troubled DeJong is locked in. His three-run shot in the seventh off Kevin Quackenbush iced the win.
Norris used early, Holland in ninth: Before DeJong's homer, the Cardinals cradled just a 3-2 advantage. That led Matheny to peek at who the Reds were due to send up in the eighth. With the top of the order scheduled, he warmed his closer, Bud Norris, an inning early. Norris ended up pitching a scoreless eighth in a four-run game, instead of a high-leverage spot.
Greg Holland then pitched the ninth in a seven-run game. Matheny said the alignment wasn't an indication that the club considers Holland ready for save situations yet, though Matheny said Holland is "close." Holland threw a 1-2-3 ninth, just his second of six appearances in which he did not walk a batter.
"They stacked some lefties and realized that was a tough spot. That was coming around as a one-run game before Pauly did what he did, and we wanted Bud ready," Matheny said. "That eighth inning today could've been the most important spot."
The win gave the Cardinals their 11th straight over the Reds dating back to last season. Not since 1949 has St. Louis topped Cincinnati in as many consecutive head-to-head matchups.
YOU GOTTA SEE THIS
Making his fourth straight start and sixth in seven games, Harrison Bader continued to fill in nicely for injured center fielder Tommy Pham on both sides of the ball. Bader went 2-for-4, extending a modest seven-game hitting streak. But the Cardinals feel Bader can be truly elite on defense, his above-average speed mixing with advanced instincts and a nose for the baseball. That skillset was on display on Sunday, when Bader ran 88 feet in 4.8 seconds to track down a Scott Schebler line drive in the fourth. Bader reached a top speed of 29.1 feet per second on the play, which Statcast™ registered as a four-star catch.
"He makes it look easy in the outfield," Matheny said. "He goes all out all the time. He only has one speed."
HE SAID IT
"A mid-90s thumber would be a good way to describe me [as a pitcher]," Mikolas said. When asked what a "thumber" was, Mikolas replied: "A crafty guy."
Wainwright's injury forced the Cardinals to scramble for a starter for Tuesday, when they open a three-game home series against the Mets and Steven Matz. The club decided to move Luke Weaver up instead of promote Jack Flaherty to start the game, set for 7:15 p.m. CT. Weaver will be on regular rest.
Joe Trezza is a reporter for MLB.com.