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Mikolas encouraged by improved command

Cards pitcher looking to finish off hitters to see results as he adjusts from solid stint in Japan
Special to MLB.com

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- In his first appearance since allowing six earned runs against the Astros on Sunday, right-hander Miles Mikolas settled into his second start of the spring Saturday with a clean first inning against the Braves at Champion Stadium. Although Atlanta threatened with Freddie Freeman's two-out double, Tyler Flowers flied out to center field to complete a scoreless inning for Mikolas.

But a three-run homer once again spoiled Mikolas' start, this time in the second inning off the bat of Christian Colon. Houston's Kyle Tucker had hit a three-run home run off Mikolas in the first inning of Sunday's contest.

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LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- In his first appearance since allowing six earned runs against the Astros on Sunday, right-hander Miles Mikolas settled into his second start of the spring Saturday with a clean first inning against the Braves at Champion Stadium. Although Atlanta threatened with Freddie Freeman's two-out double, Tyler Flowers flied out to center field to complete a scoreless inning for Mikolas.

But a three-run homer once again spoiled Mikolas' start, this time in the second inning off the bat of Christian Colon. Houston's Kyle Tucker had hit a three-run home run off Mikolas in the first inning of Sunday's contest.

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The trouble started with leadoff batter Nick Markakis' swinging bunt, which catcher Yadier Molina threw wide of first base, and well down the right-field line, allowing Markakis to reach second base. After Lane Adams flied out to right field, Preston Tucker singled to shallow right, putting runners at the corners for Colon. Mikolas was unable to escape the jam as the infielder then crushed a 2-1 pitch onto the hill beyond the left-field fence.

"I really made just one pretty bad pitch. [I] threw him a spinning slider, and the guy got a good piece of it," Mikolas said of Colon's home run. "But other than that, the other pitches they hit -- a couple singles, the doubles to Freeman -- those were pretty good pitches. Guys went down and got them."

Unlike his first start, Mikolas was able to complete his second inning, inducing groundouts from Jaff Decker and Dansby Swanson, and eventually finishing three innings of work.

"I was hitting my spots pretty well," Mikolas said. "I have a few adjustments to make on some of the breaking balls, but overall I felt pretty good. It's a step forward. A lot better fastball command, strikes early in the count. I could be better putting guys away with two strikes."

Mikolas threw 56 pitches, 42 for strikes in his frames during the 9-2 loss to the Braves. He neither struck out nor walked a batter, and while he may be a victim of a little bad luck, he still allowed four earned runs on six hits. He can step away from the game knowing he worked around the zone for most of the day.

"I thought he located his fastball [better], which was kind of what got him last time [against Houston], right?" manager Mike Matheny said, focusing on the positives from Mikolas's start. "I thought he located both sides well, saw more downhill, saw some good curveballs today."

:: Spring Training coverage presented by Camping World ::

Matheny and Mikolas said they would expect more bats to miss Mikolas's pitches as the spring progresses, based on improvements in bullpen sessions. Finishing batters off while ahead in the count will be a focus heading into Mikolas's next start, Matheny said.

"In a league [Nippon Professional Baseball] that takes a lot of pride in not having strikeouts, this guy got strikeouts," Matheny said. "It could be a lot of different things, but he's got to just keep making pitches. We'll help him get those opportunities to continue to show us."

Mikolas said he had discussed mechanical issues with the coaching staff, such as falling away toward first base, his head not staying still and landing on the ball of his foot instead of the edges. He repeatedly expressed confidence in his ability to continue adjusting back to the hitters of Major League Baseball from Japan's hitters, whom he got out more with sideways movement than vertical movement.

Zak Kerr is a contributor to MLB.com.

St. Louis Cardinals, Miles Mikolas