NEW YORK — The Cardinals wasted no time Thursday sifting through the rubble of an overtime loss at Citi Field before putting pieces together to give them a dramatic new look.
The New York Mets hadn’t stopped celebrating their 7-6 10th-inning victory when Cardinals management began shuffling the roster amid a road trip. The visitors’ clubhouse remained closed to anyone but team officials for 10 minutes, 15 minutes, 26 minutes after the final – not because of what the current team was being told after a sour run in the Queens, but was added to it overnight.
Nolan Gorman and Matthew Liberatore, the Cardinals’ top prospects and friends since growing up in Arizona, will join the Pittsburgh club in their major league debuts. Liberatore, a southpaw and one of the top pitching prospects in the minors, kicks off Saturday at PNC Park. Gorman, the game’s top power prospect with 15 top Triple-A homers, will take over at second base Friday.
“We have a need,” said manager Oliver Marmol. “So he comes to fill it.”
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And more changes may follow.
For the second game in a row, a short start and overlong innings left the bullpen exposed, then it shattered. After allowing nine runs in a loss on Wednesday, the Cardinals relievers lost a lead in the fifth and 10th innings. Harrison Bader fired the Cardinals into the game with a steal in the ninth and scored to tie the game, 5-5, on Paul Goldschmidt’s fourth RBI. In the final swing of his career in a regular season game at Queens, Albert Pujols extended his major league record for failing a double play, but this one tagged Corey Dickerson to give the Cardinals a lead. from 6-5 for closer Giovanny Gallegos to hold . Spoiler: He didn’t.
Mets shortstop Francisco Lindor had barely reached second base as a free runner early in the 10th inning when he headed home on Pete Alonso’s third career home run.
“We have to go further in games,” Marmol said of his starters. “The pace of the game wasn’t really nice to be honest with you. It was slow. We need to engage our defense a bit more, and honestly there will be a reshuffling of that bullpen to see who can get out.
The Cardinals had begun preparing for the likely start of Liberatore on Saturday since a downpour forced a doubleheader at Citi Field last Tuesday. After he had been percolating for weeks because of his power show at Class AAA Memphis, the decision to promote Gorman came quickly Thursday.
Left fielder Tyler O’Neill suffered right shoulder pain, struggled to catch Thursday morning with coach Willie McGee and was diagnosed with a pitching arm impingement. The Cardinals placed him on the 10-day disabled list and sent him back to St. Louis for examination by team doctors. An added benefit of time off the active roster will be batting in the minors for O’Neill on rehab assignment.
That left the Cardinals with an opening for an at-bat.
They recognized for weeks looking for a bat.
“Just what we need,” said rookie Juan Yepez, who homered Thursday and teamed with Gorman for a thunderous start to the season with the Triple-A Redbirds. “He’s such a good teammate. Great hitter too. That power southpaw. It’ll be good for us.”
The Cardinals’ 19th overall selection in 2018, Gorman overcame any worries about his sluggish spring training with 15 homers, a .308 ERA, .677 hitting percentage and 1.044 OPS in Memphis’ first 34 games of the season. He had back-to-back three-hit games this week, and he played with Cardinals Class AA outfielder Moises Gomez for the minor league lead in homers. Gomez took the lead with 17.
The Cardinals had been reluctant to propel the 22-year-old Gorman into the majors too soon, too quickly because of his novelty at second base and adjusting to the speed of the game for golden defense. The club also wanted to see a reduction in their strikeout rate – 50 in their first 133 at-bats this year.
“He will be in the line-up. He is here to play,” Marmol said. “He’s going to come here and he’s going to show what he can do. He worked hard to minimize strikeouts. It is something that he is aware of, that we are aware of. (He works there) pretty well. Always make lots of contact and drive the ball.
Golden Glove-winning second baseman Tommy Edman will slide to shortstop to make room for Gorman. The Cardinals placed starter Jack Flaherty on the 60-day disabled list, clearing a spot on the 40-player roster for Gorman.
The roster change for Liberatore will take place on Saturday, and that could be telling.
The Cardinals have lost three of four games to the Mets this season, and in the last two the starter hasn’t finished the fifth inning. This put quicksand under the bullpen — and the more relievers kicked and delivered, the more they sank. Pushed early in Wednesday’s game because Jake Walsh failed to retire a batter, Nick Wittgren allowed the three runners he inherited to score and break a tie. On Wednesday, Wittgren relieved Dakota Hudson in the fifth inning, inherited a run, then allowed a game-changing three-run inning on the Cardinals. Hudson allowed two runs in the first inning, needed 30 pitches to strike out three, and pitched with little momentum. Marmol remarked that the soporific pace of the game was also annoying for the defense.
“I just have to be quicker, quicker to make adjustments,” Hudson said. “Faster to get into the rhythm.”
The pace and partial starts rolled down the hill like a snowball, gathering grime and size, and the bullpen couldn’t help but be bowled over by it.
The Cardinals bullpen allowed 12 runs, including five from left-hander TJ McFarland, in the final 8 1/3 innings of the series it pitched. The Mets bullpen allowed six total runs in 16 innings pitched during the series.
“We just have to get in there and McFarland and Wittgren – get your ball on the ground,” Marmol said. “That’s what they’re here for. A somewhat difficult race. They need to start doing this again.
Liberatore could be one of them.
Tuesday’s doubleheader left the Cardinals to rewrite the schedule to keep starters Steven Matz and Miles Mikolas on normal rest. That created a vacancy for Saturday – and an opportunity for the southpaw. Liberatore, 22, has a 3.83 ERA in seven starts at Memphis. In three of his last four starts, Liberatore has pitched at least six innings, twice seven, and he had seven straight shutout innings in his last two starts in April.
If these are innings the Cardinals want, Liberatore will take a look. If it’s a left-hander the Cardinals need, Liberatore has struck out 15 of the 58 left-handed batters he’s faced this season.
The hearing is open.
Like Gorman, it will be obvious if he sticks around.
“He’s coming to launch on Saturday and we’re going to take a good look at him,” Marmol said. “And just see where we want to go from there.”