On a weekend that should serve as the first leg of the stretch run that will decide the National League Central, the Cardinals will throw their two newest arms right into the race.
Justin Masterson, acquired Wednesday from the Cleveland Indians, will start Saturday. John Lackey, acquired from Boston on Thursday, will take the ball Sunday as the Cardinals try to wrestle first place away from the visiting Brewers.
The Cardinals enter play two games back of Milwaukee. In inserting Masterson and Lackey into the rotation this weekend, the team pushes Lance Lynn back a day. He will get the ball Tuesday.
"A lot of it has to do with two guys being ready," manager Mike Matheny said. "It would be pushing Lackey pretty far, a day further than it would Lance. We've worked Lance pretty hard. With his pitch counts over his last several starts, I don't think it's going to hurt him."
The arrangement takes away the possibility of Lackey making his Cardinals' debut against his former club, the Red Sox, who come to St. Louis for a three-game series starting Tuesday.
"You always take into account that he'll have to pitch against his former team," Matheny said. "Not that that's much of a hindrance, but we have an opportunity to throw him in there as quickly as we can and get him acclimated."
Both Masterson and Lackey were introduced to the media this afternoon at Busch Stadium. Both expressed excitement at the opportunity to pitch for a contending team with the type of support the Cardinals get from their fan base.
For Lackey, the fact that he ended up here will play a big part in his decision to play for the league minimum next season. Despite signing a six-year deal with Boston in 2009 worth $83M, the Lackey's contract held a clause that gave the Red Sox a team option worth $500,000 for the final year of the contract if Lackey missed a full season due to injury.
Tommy John surgery took Lackey's entire 2012 campaign, and now the Cardinals absorb that contract clause, which Lackey says he plans to honor.
"It would have been a harder decision other places for sure," Lackey said. "This is definitely somewhere I wanted to be and I'm excited about it."
Baseball contracts are guaranteed, which is why you don't see players holding out Spring Training like they do for training camp in the NFL. But Lackey, 35, is a 12-year veteran. He could conceivably retire to get out of playing for the MLB equivalent of pennies.
When asked if he would retire at the end of this season, Lackey chuckled and said, "I don't plan on it, no."
Weather update: Despite the gray skies and late afternoon sprinkles, tonight's game is still scheduled to start at 7:15 pm. The tarp was placed on the infield around 4:00pm and no announcement has been made yet as per any delay.
Cards demote Martinez, bring back Robinson
The Cardinals' first bit of business after playing with a 23-man roster for Thursday's win at San Diego was to demote a pitcher, add a hitter and clear space for the two newcomers set to join the team today.
They did all that with a series of moves this afternoon.
Carlos Martinez, who was clearly leaving the team for Memphis after Thursday's game, was officially optioned to the Class AAA roster this afternoon. He'll go there to get innings and then slingshot back to the majors when there is an opening or September arrives, whichever happens first.
"He's going back to starting," Matheny said. "We'll get his pitch count up and then he can come back and help us in any capacity. Right now he needs to go pitch and work on some things."
Martinez, 22, was 2-4 with a 4.74 ERA in 38 games with the Cardinals. He made seven starts and logged 68.1 innings, allowing 71 hits and walking 31 batters but also striking out 64.
"He needs to get some things sorted out, some consistency," Matheny said.
"I think there is another level there for him, and that was the message given to him. More on the mental side, the preparation and the execution, which is the bottom line."
The Cardinals also promoted (again) outfielder Shane Robinson, who has been this year's yo-yo player. This will be his fourth time up with the Cardinals, although none of the previous visits have been productive. In 31 games at the big-league level in 2014, Robinson batted .140 with two RBIs.
The Cardinals also activated new starters John Lackey and Justin Masterson. Masterson has been announced as the Saturday starter, but leaving Petco Park on Thursday night, team officials said they could reconsider that assignment because Lackey would also be available.
Masterson's activation moves him off the disabled list. He had been there since earlier this month with knee inflammation.
There has also been a shuffling of the numbers on the roster to get the newcomers their more comfortable digits. Lackey will wear No. 41, negotiating it off of All-Star Pat Neshek's back.Neshek will shift to No. 37. First-base coach Chris Maloney is going to wear No. 77, made famous by another Bostonian, Ray Bourque.
Also, Masterson was going to wear No. 59 according to the club, but he has shifted to No. 63, the number he wore with Cleveland.
Here is the lineup for tonight's game against first-place Milwaukee with ace Adam Wainwright on the mound.
1. Matt Carpenter, 3B
2. Kolten Wong, 2B
3. Matt Holliday, LF
4. Matt Adams, 1B
5. Jhonny Peralta, SS
6. A.J. Pierzynski, C
7. Oscar Taveras, RF
8. Peter Bourjos, CF
9. Adam Wainwright, P
Check back throughout the evening here at C-Beat for more from the ballpark.