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Quick hits: Dakota Hudson sets a pace, sends a message with Game 1 win for Cardinals

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Cardinals beat Reds 5-1 in first game of doubleheader

St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Dakota Hudson worked eight innings in a 5-1 win over the Cincinnati Reds, the first game of a doubleheader on Saturday, Sept. 17, 2022 at Busch Stadium. Photo by Robert Cohen, rcohen@post-dispatch.com

The Dakota Hudson who emerged Saturday from a brief reboot in the minors, where he could hear the tick-tock of a clock to accelerate his pace, is exactly the Dakota Hudson who the Cardinals could find a role for in October.

In town for a one-game engagement, Hudson authored a career-high eight innings and drove the Cardinals to a peppy, crisp 5-1 victory Saturday afternoon at Busch Stadium in Game 1 of a doubleheader against Cincinnati.

He will be back like he worked – quickly.

When the Cardinals demoted Hudson to Class AAA Memphis, they had him targeted for the start in one half of the doubleheader. He returned to the roster Saturday morning as the 29th man, and on Saturday evening he will return to a minor-league roster to fulfill the remaining mandatory days on that assignment. He’s expected to travel with the team west, at least on the taxi squad, and he’s thrust his way into being considered for a start when the turn comes up, either against the Dodgers next week or later in the month.

In two starts for the Triple-A Redbirds, Hudson had to work under the pressure of the minor-league pitch clock. Any delay or prolonged stretch between pitches and the batter would be awarded a ball. Hudson told manager Oliver Marmol that he felt the governor of that clock, that he adjusted where and how he received the ball back from the catcher to accelerate his work. The result was Hudson picking up the pace – as the Cardinals had urged him to do all season. There was early evidence of that in his start Saturday.

In his previous starts this season, Hudson averaged 16.4 seconds between pitches with no runner on base. Through the first few innings Saturday he had lopped off 4 seconds, at least, on his average between pitches.

The result was a quicker tempo and gobs of plays for his defense to make. Hudson got nine outs on the ground, he struck out five, and he limited the walks to two. Hudson (8-7) utilized all three of his prominent pitches with equal mix and effectiveness, turning not just to his sinker but sliding in a breaking ball and accessing the four-seam fastball that gives his repertoire a third dimension to test hitters. The efficiency was obvious as he completed six scoreless innings on 80 pitches. The one run he allowed was an earned run.

The game time reflected his influence on it: 2 hours, 45 minutes.

Hudson pitched most of his game with lead as a bases loaded walk to Goldschmidt and Tommy Edman’s RBI single produced a 2-0 gap in the second inning. Yadier Molina widened it with a two-run homer in the third inning.

The Cardinals’ magic number to clinch the division dropped to 10.

The second game of the doubleheader will start ta 6:15 p.m. St. Louis time.

Molina lifts Cardinals to larger lead

Joining the home run chase in his own way, Molina continued the predicted surge of September with his third homer of the month. He had two in the previous five months of the season.

With a run already in and a teammate on base, Molina lifted a 3-1 pitch into the left-field seats. Molina’s two-run homer widened the Cardinals’ lead to 5-0. It was Molina’s 176th home run of his career and it gave him two runs and two hits in his first two at-bats. Molina had a flare single to center in the second inning and scored the Cardinals’ second run of the game.

Minor avoids being part of major history

When the Cardinals first posted their lineup Saturday morning, Albert Pujols was listed as the fifth hitter, but almost as soon as it went up an official said it would be changed.

Pujols was going to bat second.

How better to get him more at-bats?

With Cincinnati lefty Mike Minor starting the first game of the doubleheader, Pujols was an obvious starter in the lineup, and by moving him up to No. 2 in the order the Cardinals had the chance to getting him as many as three plate appearances against Minor. Cincinnati had exhausted its bullpen in recent games, had navigated through a bullpen game Friday night, and gave every indication of needing bulk innings from Minor. For the first time as a Cardinal, Pujols started at No. 2 in the lineup, with Paul Goldschmidt at his back and several swings at Minor.

That is, if Minor gave him anything for a swing.

That proved less predictable than Pujols getting the at-bats.

Minor got ahead of Pujols 0-2 with the first two pitches he threw, and then the Cardinals’ first baseman worked his way back by ignoring the next four pitches for a walk. Pujols got his second plate appearance in the second inning, and it went about the same, just with fewer strikes. Minor walked Pujols on five pitches. It was Pujols’ 999th walk as a member of the Cardinals.

The spot in the lineup worked as Pujols got five plate appearances. In the eighth inning, Edman singled to bring Pujols up with two outs, and then Edman risked the boos of a sellout crowd by trying to steal second. Edman slid in safe for his 30th steal of the season. Pujols grounded out to finish the inning and end the game zero-for-three with two walks.

Superb defense from transplanted outfielders

One is learning to play the outfield on the go just to get his bat in the lineup, and the other spent most of the season as the finest fielder in the organization not named Harrison Bader.

Both had plays early in Saturday’s Game 1 to rob extra bases.

In the second inning, Nick Senzel sent a drive deep to left field. Brendan Donovan, the Cardinals’ latest leadoff hitter and a utility fielder, met it at the wall. Donovan jumped into the images of the retired numbers as Senzel’s shot came just shy of leaving the ballpark.

In the third inning, No. 9 hitter Chuckie Robinson hit a deep drive to center field, and speed Ben DeLuzio tracked it down at the foot of the wall. DeLuzio, up from Class AAA Memphis as a September promotion, rated as the Cardinals’ top defensive center fielder in the minors because of his speed and range. The grades he got based on the tracking the Cardinals do ranked behind only Gold Glove winner Bader, and when the Cardinals traded Bader to the Yankees a path opened up for DeLuzio to contribute in the majors as a late-game fielder and pinch-runner.

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