ST. LOUIS -- The Cardinals will need to try to make some magic happen without their Houdini.
Right-hander Ryan Helsley, one of the Majors’ best relievers in stranding runners, was placed on the 10-day injured list prior to Friday’s series opener against the Pirates with a right elbow stress reaction, which manager Mike Shildt said was similar to a bone bruise. No structural damage has been found.
Helsley had not been available out of St. Louis’ bullpen the past four days, Shildt added, after he had been on the field playing catch pregame. Now he’ll face a period of 5-6 days without throwing, after which the Cardinals will measure his next steps. No injection or invasive procedure is expected.
Shildt wasn’t sure of how exactly Helsley came to injure his elbow, with no point of trauma that caused the injury; just some wear and tear.
“It's not a very common thing,” Shildt said. “Bone bruise requires some time away from the intensity of throwing and then should be behind him, play catch and get back into it.”
Helsley’s absence will be palpable. He’s admittingly had an uneven season, with a 4.56 ERA in 51 games, but he has pitched to a 2.77 ERA since the start of June, thankful for some of the tinkering he’s conducted during bullpens starting to pay off.
But his most valuable aspect has been his ability to bail his teammates out of trouble: Of relievers who have inherited at least 30 runners this season, none have done a better job of stranding those on base than Helsley. Only 13 percent of the runners that he’s inherited have scored. The next-lowest mark of those with 30 inherited runners is 20 percent.
So who takes the buck now? Luís García is a prime option from the right side of the bullpen, owning a streak of 10 consecutive scoreless appearances after a scoreless frame in Thursday’s win over the Brewers. Opponents are hitting just .130 off him in that stretch with a mere one extra-base hit.
Also rising to the challenge is T.J. McFarland, who closed out the win on Thursday after Alex Reyes threw 32 pitches on Wednesday. The lefty has pitched to a 2.25 ERA since joining as a free agent in July. The Cardinals' bullpen, as a whole, has thrived off its starters getting deeper, and vice versa.
“The fact that they’ve pitched as well as they have since they’ve been here. … that’s moved our needle,” Shildt said. “McFarland and García have been huge for our bullpen.”
Junior’s surprise fiesta
Johan Oviedo, the Cardinals’ highly touted 23-year-old now at Triple-A Memphis, has thrown 1,530 pitches in the big leagues across 18 starts. He’s still without a win.
Junior Fernández threw two pitches on Thursday, got a double play and walked away with his first career win.
Fernández said on Thursday that as he got into the clubhouse and teammates weren’t exactly sure if A) He walked away with the victory and B) If that was the first of his career. After they found out?
“I didn't want to say it was my first win, and all the guys started asking,” Fernández said. “And then they told me to get in the [laundry] cart, and it was really fun. It was everything. I don't know all the stuff that they used [to douse me in], but it was a lot.”
Fernández marked the 15th time in franchise history a pitcher earned a win by throwing two pitches or fewer. Of the bunch, only Jason Motte (April 2009) has also done so for their first career win.
Cards honor Brock, Gibby
This Pirates series falls on the Cardinals’ Hall of Fame weekend, when the club will induct Keith Hernandez, Bill White, Tom Herr and John Tudor into its Hall of Fame on Saturday.
Conjoined around Saturday’s ceremony were days to honor the late Cardinals legends Lou Brock and Bob Gibson. Friday’s day was for Brock, with an on-field ceremony and first pitch from members of his family. Sunday will be Gibson’s day, with similar ceremonies in tow and another first pitch from his family.
Both celebrations of life come almost a year after each legend passed away, but they represented the first time the Cardinals family got to commemorate their lives all together in person.
“Those are institutional legends that created a lot of the sustained success that takes place here,” Shildt said. “ … Their presence, although not physically here, is still with us.”