Cardinals fire on all cylinders, down Bucs
Suppan earns first win; Pujols, Rasmus hit homers
ST. LOUIS -- The Cardinals scarcely looked like a team that needed a starting-pitching upgrade on Saturday night at Busch Stadium. Then again, for one night, at least, they didn't look like they missed outfielder Ryan Ludwick, either.
Jeff Suppan, potentially making his last start as a Cardinal, turned in 5 1/3 outstanding innings, and the Redbirds kept up the pressure all night on the offensive side, in a convincing 11-1 win against the Pirates. St. Louis maintained its half-game lead over Cincinnati in the National League Central and has won 11 of 16 games since the All-Star break.
Earlier on Saturday, the Cards announced they had acquired right-hander Jake Westbrook from the Indians in advance of the non-waiver Trade Deadline, in a deal that sent Ludwick to the Padres. Westbrook debuts Monday, displacing Blake Hawksworth from the St. Louis starting five. Meanwhile, Kyle Lohse made his second Minor League rehabilitation start on Saturday out of an expected three. Thanks to off-days, the Cardinals will not need a fifth starter again until Aug. 10, which sets up perfectly as a return date for Lohse.
Thus, Suppan may not have even been pitching for his job. It may be too late. But to the extent that his performance on Saturday will influence how he is used for the rest of the year, it only helped him.
"That is definitely the reality," Suppan acknowledged, "but my job is to be ready to pitch when they ask me to pitch. ... I gave everything I could give. I felt that many games I kept the team in the game. But those things, decisions like that, are out of my control. All I can do is go out and pitch. I've prepared and tried to make the necessary improvements to go out to give the best, every time I've gone out there."
The right-hander struck out five Pirates in 5 1/3 innings, didn't issue a walk and permitted five hits, four of them singles. He was fairly efficient, as well, throwing a total of 74 pitches before handing the game over to the bullpen.
"We were impatient tonight against Suppan," said Pittsburgh manager John Russell. "We got jumpy and really didn't be as patient as we probably could. We tried to make things happen, which is a sign of a young team. They wanted to get aggressive against him out there. He's a veteran pitcher, saw that and threw a lot of offspeed to us."
In his 10th start of the year, and his eighth with the Cardinals, Suppan finally recorded a win. It was his first victory since Sept. 19, 2009, when he was pitching for the Brewers against Houston.
Offensively, the Cardinals did a little bit of everything. They hit for power, with homers by Albert Pujols and Colby Rasmus. They also turned two singles and two walks into a run in the second inning, then parlayed two walks, a stolen base and an error into a tally in the fourth. And in the eighth against a short-handed and beleaguered Pittsburgh bullpen, the Cards racked up six hits, two walks and five runs to turn a comfortable win into a laugher.
Pujols went 3-for-5 on the evening, stemming a 9-for-49 slide over his previous 13 games. The game may have been bigger for Rasmus, though, for whom the Ludwick trade presumably signals a return to everyday-player status. He had been buried deep in a 4-for-33 slump, and had only two extra-base hits and no home runs in 13 games since the All-Star break. His playing time had been dwindling somewhat with Ludwick's return from the disabled list and Jon Jay's torrid streak.
With Ludwick westbound, though, Rasmus should be reinstated as the everyday center fielder, with Jay playing regularly in right field. Rasmus turned in a superb game at the plate on Saturday, reinforcing that decision. He homered, singled, walked, drove in three runs and scored three times. His last home run had been on June 27, and he had not hit a home run at Busch Stadium since June 15.
Rasmus told reporters before the game about a desire to make sure he is able to relax and have fun on the field, and on Saturday night, he made it pay off.
"I felt relaxed, which is what I want to try to be," he said. "[The trade] might have had a little something to do with it. Not putting pressure, just going up there and remembering what I'm trying to do and going through with it. Not trying to reach for the stars. Just play the game like I can play it, and whatever happens, happens."
The Cardinals will attempt to finish off their first three-game series sweep of the year on Sunday.
Matthew Leach is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.