ST. LOUIS -- On a frustration-filled night for a Cardinals team that surprisingly had little pop offensively against a Braves rookie pitcher making his MLB debut, tempers finally flared late in the game between manager Oliver Marmol and standout center fielder Tyler O'Neill.
When O’Neill gingerly rounded third and was thrown out at home to end the seventh inning, he was approached by Marmol, who was critical of the speedy outfielder’s effort in running the bases. At the time, heavy rain was falling at Busch Stadium, and the Cardinals trailed by three runs when O’Neill was waved home by third-base coach Pop Warner.
Ronald Acuña Jr.’s strong throw from right field easily beat O’Neill to the plate for the final out of the seventh to end a brief Cards rally.
“We’ve got a lot of guys playing really hard and that’s not our style of play as far as the effort rounding the bag there,” said Marmol, whose Cardinals lost 4-1 to rookie starter Dylan Dodd and the Braves. “It’s unacceptable.”
Asked if O’Neill might have thought he would have been held at third considering the wet conditions and the three-run deficit, Marmol responded: “Bottom line, that’s not his judgment and that’s why we have a coach standing over there. Your effort’s 100 percent until you’re told not to [run].”
O’Neill, who had one of the Cardinals’ 10 hits, disputed the notion that he wasn’t hustling. O’Neill saw much of his 2022 wiped out by injuries, including two hamstring pulls that he worked to correct this offseason with a new running form and workout schedule.
“I think [Marmol] was pretty blunt about it and he didn’t think I gave the best effort,” said O’Neill, the starting center fielder in four of St. Louis’ five games this season. “I’m out here every day grinding my [expletive] off and giving it my all and trying to stay on the field for  games. Like I’ve said, I’ve got to get a better jump next time and get around the base a little quicker and be in there [safe] next time.”
O’Neill, a two-time Gold Glove winner when he played previously in left field, stayed in the game and played the eighth and ninth innings as a persistent rain fell. O’Neill admitted after the game that his recent injury history and his offseason focus on trying to get beyond the leg injuries that dogged him last season might have been at the forefront of his thinking.
“I was trying to take a tight turn,” said O’Neill, who has hit .294 thus far after remaining in St. Louis through much of the offseason to work with the team’s strength and conditioning staff.
“I’ve been working a lot on different run-form mechanics and stuff here in St. Louis that puts me in a better position for longevity. So, maybe there was a little too much thought process in the play from me instead of just going and getting them -- as I usually would. So, it’s finding that happy medium and learning from the experience, for sure.”
Much of the Cardinals’ frustration on Tuesday could be traced to their lack of success against Dodd, a Southeast Missouri University product and an Illinois native who had 100-plus friends and family in the Busch Stadium crowd.
Dodd became the eighth rookie starter to make his Major League debut against the Cardinals and the third to walk away with a victory [against just one loss] in the past five-plus seasons. Dodd, who was promoted only because of injuries to Atlanta’s starting staff, limited the Cards to one run and six hits over five innings.
For whatever reason, the Cardinals’ lack of success against rookie starters making their MLB debuts runs counter to MLB trends. Coming into Tuesday, starting pitchers making their MLB debuts were 2-1 with a 2.18 ERA in seven starts vs. St. Louis, per MLB Stats and Research. Going back to the past 10 years (2014-23), rookie starting pitchers making their MLB debuts were 5-4 with a 3.15 ERA in 17 starts against the Cards.
In the previous five MLB seasons, rookie starters making their MLB debuts were a forgettable 37-63 with a 4.82 ERA in 170 starts against the rest of the league. Taking it back to the last 10 years, those young pitchers were a dreadful 96-143 with a 4.85 ERA in 371 MLB debut starts.
Still, Dodd outpitched veteran left-hander Steven Matz. Following Matz’s four-run, 10-hit effort over 5 1/3 innings, the Cards are still waiting for their first quality start of the season.
“When you look at our past week, is it ideal? No, it is not, but there’s some bright spots there,” Marmol said of a starting staff that has an ERA of 7.04. “I don’t put a whole lot of weight or overreact to the first outing. We’ll continue to lay eyes on it and go from there.”