The St. Louis Cardinals had one of baseball’s worst rotations last season, and with a staff full of journeymen hurlers, not much improvement was expected in 2008.
But the Cardinals’ rotation has surprised so far, and Todd Wellemeyer has been a big reason why.
Wellemeyer will look to build off the best effort of his brief career as a starter on Wednesday when the Cardinals open a two-game set with the Pittsburgh Pirates at PNC Park.
Mulder and Carpenter are still out, and with a rotation consisting of 14-game winner Adam Wainwright and four seemingly lackluster veterans, the Cardinals (13-8) weren’t expected to have a rotation any better than last season’s, when their starters posted a 5.04 ERA.
But St. Louis has a 3.66 ERA from its starters through 21 games, and Wellemeyer (2-0, 3.24 ERA) has been impressive in his first full season as a starting pitcher.
He has 26 strikeouts in 25 innings through four starts, and lasted seven innings in his latest outing, allowing just one run in an 11-1 Cardinals win over San Francisco on Friday.
“I always felt like I had it in me, and it was just a matter of getting innings at the major league level,” said Wellemeyer, who was released last season by Kansas City before signing with St. Louis. “That’s all I ever wanted. Be it out of the bullpen or starting, just to be able to go out there and play is huge for me.”
After an 11-4 start, however, the Cardinals have lost four of six, and two of their last three starts have been shaky. Kyle Lohse lasted only four innings on Tuesday, and though St. Louis rebounded from an 8-3 deficit to take the game into extra innings, it lost 9-8 to Milwaukee in 12 innings.
Manager Tony La Russa, however, was mostly impressed with the comeback.
“I focus on the outstanding effort that we had,” he told the team’s official Web site.
The Pirates (8-12) haven’t gotten many good efforts from their starting staff this season, and had lost six straight - getting outscored 58-16 in the process. Pittsburgh’s offense didn’t do much yet again on Tuesday, but it got an impressive performance from starter Paul Maholm and beat Florida 3-2.
Maholm allowed just one run in six innings, striking out six, and the Pirates pushed across three runs with two outs in the sixth despite a questionable call when center fielder Nate McLouth was thrown out trying to steal second base.
“We could have rolled over there, but we came back with some pretty good at-bats,” manager John Russell said. “We’ve gone through some tough times, but hopefully this is what it takes to get out of it.”
Despite the win, McLouth’s hitting streak - a major-league best 19 games to start the season - ended. McLouth, however, is still hitting .366 with three homers and 16 RBIs.
Pittsburgh will send Ian Snell (2-1, 4.07) to the hill on Wednesday. Snell is coming off his first loss of the season, when he lasted six innings on Friday, allowing three runs in six innings in a 3-2 loss to the Chicago Cubs.
He’s pitched well against St. Louis in his career, going 3-3 with a 3.40 ERA, including 1-1 with a 1.93 ERA at PNC Park.
Snell has had plenty of problems getting Cardinals slugger Albert Pujols out, however. Pujols is 9-for-16 with four homers against Snell.