ST. LOUIS -- The Cardinals have a saying when they golf together: “A hole-in-one, and I'm right back on track.” Monday night was Miles Mikolas' hole-in-one.
The right-hander pitched his second career shutout as the Cardinals took the series opener from the Pirates, 7-0, at Busch Stadium. It was the Cardinals' third straight win and put them in second place in the National League Central for the first time since May 2.
Mikolas' last shutout came on May 21, 2018, against Kansas City. It was the Cardinals' first complete-game shutout this season, and Mikolas did it in 100 pitches, throwing just nine in the ninth inning.
“In command the whole way, imposing his will, all his pitches crisp,” manager Mike Shildt said. “That's Miles in a nutshell.”
After going 5-9 in the first half and struggling with inconsistency, Mikolas used the All-Star break to reset and compare video from last season as he tried to find the culprit for his mediocre first half.
What did he find? His balance on his delivery was off. He was falling to the first-base side too much. That made his breaking ball stay up in the zone -- his slider has been hammered for five home runs this season compared to one last year.
The adjustments Mikolas made worked. He allowed eight hits but, backed by an alert defense, pitched himself out of trouble. He didn't walk a batter, and he faced two three-ball counts all night, one in the first inning and one in the eighth.
“As soon as I came back and started playing catch in the All-Star break, just really focusing on keeping my head steady and letting my body work around my head,” Mikolas said. “Keeping everything toward the plate, and then carry that to the bullpen session, then out to the game.”
Mikolas continued a trend of starters working deep into games, a needed change as St. Louis fights to stay in the division race.
Cardinals starting pitchers went 2-0 with a 1.37 ERA (19 2/3 innings, three earned runs) in three games against the D-backs this weekend, following Jack Flaherty's one-run, seven-inning outing in the final game before the All-Star break.
“That's the recipe we're looking for,” Shildt said. “Guys getting after it, out there, shoulders back and imposing their will. There's a strong mentality that they're going to execute and make quality pitches until the night's over. Tonight, Miles didn't keep pitching because the game was over.”
And Mikolas would have kept pitching, too. He needed all the innings he could get to stay atop the starters' competition about who can have the best outing.
“[Adam Wainwright] came in the other day and said, ‘Anybody going to beat seven [shutout innings]?' We're joking with each other, but we're pushing each other, trying to make others better. When you see one guy have success, it really pumps you up to have success. I want to go do that. That looked like a lot of fun.”
Friendly competition aside, the starters pitching like this is helping St. Louis contend. And if the Cardinals don't want to miss the postseason for a fourth straight year, Mikolas -- their Opening Day starter who they signed to a four-year, $68 million extension -- will play a big part in that.
Monday night became the evidence that he's back on track.
“I needed it,” Mikolas said. “Something to make me feel good and put that first half behind me. Get started on a real good foot, it's a real tight race and to go out there and give us a win and set the tone for this series, we're going to play these guys a lot in the next week here, so to set the tone early is huge.”
O'Neill launches twin blasts
Tyler O'Neill is fighting for playing time in a crowded Cardinals outfield, and he keeps winning the battle.
The left fielder had his first multi-homer night in the Major Leagues on Monday, backing the gem from Mikolas.
O'Neill is 6-for-12 in his last three games with nine RBIs and three home runs. The two home runs Monday night went 416 and 433 feet, both to straightaway center field.
“I got in the cage early today, working on staying back and making sure I'm seeing the ball properly, and it obviously paid off today,” O'Neill said. “It just means I'm on time [with my swing]. I think that's the most important part of hitting.”
Marcell Ozuna is on the injured list with fractured right fingers, and the timetable for his return is murky. While the Cardinals are hoping he's back before the end of the month, it's more likely to be into August when Ozuna returns, leaving plenty of time for O'Neill to make more of an impact at the big league level.
“I think that's pretty obvious,” Shildt said. “You fight like heck to get [the opportunity], then enjoy it and go play and use your ability. Seizing the opportunity he's getting.”