Mikolas' career night helps set Cards straight

May 31st, 2023

ST. LOUIS -- Nothing, said with about as much conviction as he used to notch his career-high-tying 10th strikeout in Tuesday’s eighth inning, gives him more satisfaction as a pitcher than coming through with a stellar performance when his Cardinals need it the most.

Mikolas did just that last week when the Cardinals were staring at the possibility of losing a series to the rebuilding Reds, throwing seven scoreless innings to carry St. Louis. On Tuesday, with the Cardinals in another rut where they had dropped four of their past six games, Mikolas was even better while baffling the Royals. 

The Cardinals' ace outdueled Zack Greinke by scattering three hits and a walk, while also striking out 10 for just the second time in his MLB career in the 2-1 win over Kansas City at Busch Stadium.

Heading into the team’s first scheduled two-day break in-season since September of 1978, Mikolas was determined to end the Cardinals’ two-game losing skid with a stopper-like performance.

“I think it’s one of the best feelings in sports to show up for your team when they need it,” said Mikolas, whose only other 10-strikeout game came in August of 2019 in Milwaukee. “That’s all my pride and that’s all I’m here to do -- win games. Yeah, I want my stat line to look good, but at the end of the day, if I start the game and we finish with a win, I’m pretty happy.”

The Cardinals have done plenty of winning of late when the 34-year-old Mikolas has been on the mound. In his last nine starts, Mikolas is 4-0 with a 2.11 ERA. St. Louis has won seven of his last nine starts, including all his last five outings.

Mikolas has been a major cog in a Cardinals recovery process that has helped them dig their way out of a 10-24 start. The Redbirds followed up a 10-18 April with a 15-13 May, which included a stretch of them winning 12 of 16 at one point. Not exactly April showers bringing robust May flowers, but the Cardinals still like where they sit in the less-than-stellar NL Central race.

“We’ve got more ground to make up, but we’re just getting started,” said Cards manager Oliver Marmol, whose team is still in last place in the NL Central but sits just 4 1/2 games behind first-place Milwaukee. “We did a nice job taking a step back, taking a deep breath and knowing we have a lot of work to do. May was good and we’re going to keep going.”

Mikolas kept going after a rocky three-start stretch to open the season where his ERA was north of 10, and he has slowly become the Cardinals' most reliable starter again. An All-Star in 2022 for a second time in his career, Mikolas was awarded a two-year, $40 million contract extension late in Spring Training.

Pitching only sporadically for Team USA in the World Baseball Classic played a role in Mikolas’ slow start to the season, Marmol said, but he’s been a completely different pitcher over his last nine outings. And he was at his best on Tuesday when he retired nine straight after allowing the first two batters of the game to reach. He later sat down 12 of the final 13 Royals hitters he faced. 

He hasn’t allowed a run in his past 16 innings, and he’s never allowed a run to the Royals over 17 innings.

“He throws stuff in different directions,” Royals outfielder MJ Melendez said. “He’s got a funky arm slot and release. He just had a good mix today.”

In addition to wanting to stop the Cardinals' slide, Mikolas admitted to wanting to pitch well against Greinke, a 224-game winner, the 2009 AL Cy Young winner and a two-time MLB ERA champ. Greinke held the Cardinals scoreless over five innings before they got to reliever Carlos Hernández in the sixth with ’s run-scoring double.

“He's been in the Major Leagues a long time, he's had some great seasons and he's still a fantastic pitcher,” Mikolas said of Greinke. “I don't know if he's a Hall of Famer or not, but I'm sure he’s close. He’d probably get my vote.

“Anytime we're going up against a guy with a name like that it makes you want to do good,” Mikolas added. “It makes you want to impress him. I'm getting to be one of the older guys in the league, so when I face guys that I watched on TV, then you want to impress him. Hopefully, he's going back saying, ‘You know, Mikolas did pretty good today.’”