NEW YORK — The Cardinals wasted no time Thursday sifting through the rubble from an extra-innings loss at Citi Field before putting pieces together to give them a dramatic new look.
The New York Mets had not yet stopped celebrating their 7-6 victory in the 10th inning when the Cardinals management began revamping the roster in the middle of a road trip. The visitors’ clubhouse remained closed to anyone but team officials for 10 minutes, 15 minutes, 26 minutes after the final out — not because of what was being said to the current team after a sour series in Queens, but who was being added to it overnight.
Nolan Gorman and Matthew Liberatore, the Cardinals’ top prospects and friends since their boyhoods in Arizona, will join the club in Pittsburgh for their major-league debuts. Liberatore, a lefty and one of the top pitching prospects in the minors, will start Saturday at PNC Park. Gorman, the game’s leading power prospect with a Triple-A best 15 homers, will take over at second base Friday.
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“We have a need,” manager Oliver Marmol said. “So, he’s coming to fill it.”
And more changes could follow.
For the second consecutive game, a short start and overextended innings left the bullpen exposed and then it shattered. After allowing nine runs in a loss Wednesday, Cardinals relievers misplaced a lead in the fifth and 10th innings. Harrison Bader ran the Cardinals back 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 during a regular-season game in Queens, Albert Pujols extended his major-league record for grounding into double plays, but this one scored Corey Dickerson to give the Cardinals 6-5 lead for closer Giovanny Gallegos to hold. Spoiler: He didn’t.
Mets shortstop Francisco Lindor had barely reached second base as the free runner at the start of the 10th inning when he headed home on Pete Alonso’s third career walk-off homer.
“We’ve got to get deeper in games,” Marmol said of his starters. “The pace of the game wasn’t really pleasant to be honest with you. It was slow. We’ve got to engage our defense a little more, and honestly there will be some reshuffling of that bullpen to see who can get outs.”
The Cardinals had started to prepare for Liberatore’s likely start Saturday since a rainout forced a doubleheader at Citi Field this past Tuesday. While percolating for weeks because of his power show at Class AAA Memphis, the decision to promote Gorman came fast Thursday.
Left fielder Tyler O’Neill experienced soreness in his right shoulder, had difficulty playing catch Thursday morning with coach Willie McGee, and was diagnosed with an impingement in his throwing arm. The Cardinals placed him on the 10-day injured list and sent him back to St. Louis for examination by team doctors. An additional benefit of the time off the active roster will be at-bats in the minors for O’Neill on a rehab assignment.
That left the Cardinals with an opening for a bat.
They’ve acknowledged for weeks the search for a bat.
“Just what we need,” said rookie Juan Yepez, who homered Thursday and paired with Gorman for a thunderous start to the season with the Triple-A Redbirds. “He’s such a great teammate. Great hitter, too. That power lefty. It will be good for us.”
The Cardinals’ 19th overall selection in 2018, Gorman vanquished any concerns about his sluggish spring training with 15 homers, a.308 average, a .677 slugging percentage, and his 1.044 OPS in the first 34 games of Memphis’ season. He had back-to-back three-hit games this week, and he’s been jockeying with Cardinals Class AA outfielder Moises Gomez for the minor-league lead in homers. Gomez surged ahead with 17.
The Cardinals had been hesitant to thrust Gorman, 22, into the majors too early, too swiftly because of his newness at second base and adjustment to the speed of the game for a gold-laced defense. The club has also wanted to see a reduction in his strikeout rate — 50 in his first 133 at-bats this year.
“He’ll be in the lineup. He’s here to play,” Marmol said. “He’s going to get here and he’s going to show what he’s able to do. He’s been working hard minimizing strikeouts. It’s something he’s aware of, we’re aware of. (He’s been working) at it pretty good. Still making a lot of contact and driving the ball.”
Gold Glove-winning second baseman Tommy Edman will slide over to shortstop to make room for Gorman. The Cardinals placed starter Jack Flaherty on the 60-day disabled list clear a spot on the 40-man roster for Gorman.
The roster move for Liberatore will come Saturday, and it could be telling.
The Cardinals lost three of the four games to the Mets this season, and in the final two the starter did not complete the fifth inning. That put quicksand under the bullpen — and the more the relievers kicked and delivered, the more they sank. Thrust into Wednesday’s game early because Jake Walsh did not retire a batter, Nick Wittgren allowed all three runners he inherited to score and snap a tie game. On Wednesday, Wittgren relieved Dakota Hudson in the fifth inning, inherited a run, and then allowed a three-run inning that flipped the game on the Cardinals. Hudson allowed two runs in the first inning, needed 30 pitches to get three out, and pitched with little pep. Marmol remarked that the game’s soporific pace was dull for the defense, too.
“Just got to be quicker, quicker to make adjustments,” Hudson said. “Quicker to get in rhythm.”
The pace and the partial starts rolled down hill like a snowball, gathering gunk and size, and the bullpen could not help but get bowled by it.
The Cardinals’ bullpen allowed 12 runs, five from lefty T.J. McFarland, in the final 8 1/3 innings of the series it pitched. The Mets bullpen allowed six runs total in 16 innings pitched during the series.
“We just have to get in there and McFarland and Wittgren — get your groundball,” Marmol said. “That’s what they’re here for. A little bit of a tough run at it. They need to get back to doing that.”
Liberatore could be a part of that.
The doubleheader Tuesday left the Cardinals rewriting the schedule to keep starters Steven Matz and Miles Mikolas on normal rest. That created a vacancy for Saturday — and an opportunity for the lefty. Liberatore, 22, has a 3.83 ERA in seven starts at Memphis. In three of his past four starts, Liberatore has pitched at least six innings, twice gone seven, and he had back-to-back seven shutout innings in his final two April starts.
If it’s innings the Cardinals want, Liberatore will get a look. If it’s a lefty the Cardinals need, Liberatore has struck out 15 of the 58 left-handed batters he’s faced this season.
The audition is open-ended.
Like Gorman, it will be obvious if he sticks around.
“He’s coming to throw on Saturday and we’ll get a good look at it,” Marmol said. “And just see where we want to go from there.”