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Mikolas excels in eight-inning start for Cards

@LangoschMLB
April 20, 2019

ST. LOUIS -- Rarely one to forcefully counter a critique, manager Mike Shildt took exception on Saturday morning to what he perceived to be a suggestion that the club needed to consider other starting pitching options amid a run of abbreviated starts. “If we’re talking about the confidence in our

ST. LOUIS -- Rarely one to forcefully counter a critique, manager Mike Shildt took exception on Saturday morning to what he perceived to be a suggestion that the club needed to consider other starting pitching options amid a run of abbreviated starts.

“If we’re talking about the confidence in our rotation, it’s still high,” Shildt said in his retort. “I expect us at any moment -- starting today -- [to be capable] of going on a run.”

Hours later, Miles Mikolas made him look prescient.

With the deepest start by any Cardinals pitcher this season, Mikolas needed hardly any of the wiggle room the offense provided as it battered Mets fill-in starter Chris Flexen. Mikolas helped build that lead with a two-run single, and then locked it down with eight quality innings to treat a capacity crowd at Busch Stadium to a 10-2 Cardinals victory.

“Feels nice,” Mikolas said, “to know what the eighth inning looks like in 2019.”

Mikolas finished two more innings than any Cards starter had previously this season. In fact, the club entered the matinee on Saturday as one of just three teams since 1908 to go at least 19 games into a season without having a starting pitcher retire a batter in the seventh inning.

He also outlasted his two-year-old daughter, Lillianne, who -- while attending her first big league game of the season -- turned to her aunt in the seventh inning and said:, “OK, let’s go home and see mom.”

Prior to their departure, however, Mikolas did precisely as Lillianne was cheering him on to do: Throw strikes.

And Mikolas did so with ease.

A pitcher who led all National League starters with his first-pitch strike percentage in 2018, threw that first-pitch strike to 23 of the 30 batters he faced on Saturday.

“He’s a really good pitcher, and you spot him a really big lead like that, they can relax and just worry about making pitches,” Mets manager Mickey Callaway said. “He settled in and got ahead. He executed pitches, and we just did not have an answer for that.”

Especially key was the curveball, a pitch Mikolas threw 17 times. His first one froze Brandon Nimmo for a first-inning strikeout, and the last one helped set up a strikeout of pinch-hitter Domonic Smith to close the eighth.

In between, the Mets couldn’t advance a runner to third until scoring a pair of runs in the seventh. Mikolas rebounded from that hiccup by retiring the final five batters he faced to wrap up his 100-pitch effort.

That effort was a much-needed day of rest for a bullpen that had shouldered 45-percent of the team’s innings. After using six relievers on Friday, only one had to be summoned behind Mikolas.

“It was good timing,” Shildt said. “It just shows what we’re capable of. Miles was our Opening Day starter. That’s what guys like that do. They go out and eat up innings and control the tempo of what’s going on.”

Mikolas stung the Mets in more way than one on Saturday, too. It was his two-run single off Flexen, who had intentionally walked the bases loaded to get to Mikolas, that helped the Cardinals build a three-run lead in the second inning.

“Choke and poke,” said Mikolas, whose eight RBIs since the start of 2018 are third-most by a pitcher during that span. “I saw them walk [Kolten] Wong there. I don’t know if disrespectful is the right word, but it’s the other team saying, ‘You stink. We’ll take our chances with you hitting.’

“With guys on base in that situation, I knew that if I could just shorten up, slap something, poke it through the infield, I might get lucky. And I did.”

The RBI hit jump-started an offense that went on to score in five different innings to post its second double-digit run output this season.

Jenifer Langosch has covered the Cardinals for MLB.com since 2012, and previously covered the Pirates from 2007-11. Follow her on Twitter and Facebook.