Injured pitchers have been a problem all season for the St. Louis Cardinals. Ineffective pitching has been an even greater issue.
The Cardinals hope to avoid relying heavily on their overworked bullpen Saturday night when they continue a three-game series against the surging Oakland Athletics.
St. Louis’ bullpen had to carry a heavy load for the second straight night in Friday’s 14-3 loss, as starter Braden Looper was forced to leave after 4 1-3 innings due to tightness in his right shoulder.
Looper had already allowed eight runs to that point and rookie Andy Cavazos didn’t fare any better, yielding four runs in two innings. With the outcome no longer in doubt, utility player Scott Spiezio pitched a scoreless eighth inning, becoming the first Cardinals position player to pitch since Cody McKay on April 8, 2004.
“He told me in the seventh to go out and warm up,” Spiezio said. “When he approached me I thought I was going to pinch hit or play in the field. They told me to throw nothing but fastballs. Tony (La Russa) told me to go out there and have some fun. I haven’t done it since high school.”
This series marks Cardinals manager La Russa’s return to Oakland, the scene of his greatest triumphs until winning the World Series last year with the Cardinals.
“It wasn’t a very happy experience,” La Russa said. “It was very disappointing. I had a lot of family and friends here and playing well would have meant enjoying it more.”
Cardinals relievers had to work 6 2-3 innings in Thursday’s 17-8 loss at Kansas City after Kip Wells was chased in the second inning.
St. Louis (28-36), which has lost six of eight, has been outscored 31-11 in the last two games.
“Early in the season when we couldn’t hit we could pitch. Now that we can hit, we can’t pitch,” La Russa said. “We have more problems than plusses and we have to reverse that.”
The Cardinals have lost by five or more runs 17 times this year, and have allowed the opposition to bat through the order in an inning twice each of the last two nights.
Losing Looper for any length of time would leave a huge void for the Cardinals, who rank last in the NL with a 5.15 ERA. They have been without ace Chris Carpenter since the season opener because of an elbow injury and Mark Mulder has yet to pitch this season following shoulder surgery.
Interleague play - at least in the regular season - has not been kind to the Cardinals, who have lost eight of 10 this year against the AL. They have lost 12 of their last 13 interleague road games.
Oakland (37-29), meanwhile, is one of the hottest teams in the majors, winning three straight and 11 of its last 13 games.
The Athletics are having no problems with their pitching, which ranks first in the AL with a 3.15 ERA.
Starter Todd Wellemeyer (2-0, 4.79 ERA) will be asked to eat some innings for the Cardinals. The converted reliever won for the second time in three starts Sunday against the Los Angeles Angels, allowing five runs and seven hits in 5 2-3 innings in a 9-6 victory.
Wellemeyer, who began this season with Kansas City, faced the A’s in relief on May 10 and gave up five runs and seven hits in 2 2-3 innings.
He has no record and a 9.00 ERA in two career relief appearances against Oakland.
The A’s counter with Lenny DiNardo (2-2, 1.22), who has been excellent since moving into the rotation on May 29. The left-hander has allowed only one earned run and 10 hits in three starts, spanning 17 1-3 innings.
DiNardo scattered four hits over six innings, walked two and struck out a season-high five Sunday in a 2-0 victory at San Francisco. He has never faced the Cardinals.
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