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St. Louis Cardinals take on Oakland Athletics at Busch

St. Louis Cardinals relief pitcher John Brebbia throws the ball in the top of the sixth inning on Tuesday, June 25, 2019, during a game between the Oakland Athletics and the St. Louis Cardinals at Busch Stadium. Photo by Brian Munoz, bmunoz@post-dispatch.com

CINCINNATI — As Giovanny Gallegos waited recently in the Cardinals bullpen for the inevitable call into a close game and the uncertain length of his assignment, bullpen coach Bryan Eversgerd passed along a message to the righthander that he has before.

“It’s real nice to be able to use him every day and you can use him two innings today and one inning again tomorrow,” Eversgerd recalled Friday. “He’s that guy in the bullpen that every manager loves to have because you know what he’s going to have when he goes into the game. He’s going to come after guys.”

He’s not alone.

In the ongoing ebb and flow of assignments in the Cardinals’ bullpen, Gallegos and John Brebbia have flowed into later, higher-leverage innings because of that versatility and resilience, while first-half setup whiz John Gant has ebbed because of results. After the Cardinals rallied for a lead Thursday night, the bullpen lined up neatly with Gant, Gallegos, Brebbia, and then Andrew Miller all set to handle about an inning. When Gant faltered — two hits, one walk allowed — Gallegos entered early and got a pivotal double play with the potential tying run at the plate. Manager Mike Shildt used it as an example of how Gallegos “can pitch anytime, anywhere, to any part of the lineup.”

“He’s a vital part of our bullpen down there for sure,” Eversgerd said.

An example, for sure, of a vital thing the relievers are doing.

Since the All-Star break, the Cardinals have not allowed an inherited runner to score. Gallegos stranded both of his Thursday, Carlos Martinez has inherited three and marooned three, and Dominic Leone left two on base in a win Wednesday. In that same victory, the Cardinals’ bullpen provided 4 1/3 no-hit innings against Pittsburgh. Brebbia pitched two of them and struck out four of the six batters he faced.

Gant, a candidate to start in spring training, neared the All-Star break as the bullpen’s leader in wins and holds. Teammates lauded him as All-Star-worthy, but the walks started to creep in. In his previous eight games, including Thursday, Gant has walked eight batters and allowed 10 hits in 6 1/3 innings. Seven of those 18 baserunners have scored to bloat his ERA to 9.95. Gallegos and Brebbia have arrived as alternatives. Brebbia by shifting away from his changeup and picking up the velocity of his fastball in July, and Gallegos by unleashing two types of curveballs — one traditional and the other a power-diver that he calls all slider.

Brebbia got his ninth hold of the season Thursday, and this month, with the snappier fastball, he’s struck out 15 of the 30 batters he’s faced to factor into the late-inning options. Gallegos’ move there has been steadier. He got his first high-leverage assignment in his native Mexico, against the Cincinnati, and over time expanded his use, its importance, and the effectiveness of the plunging slider. It was a pitch they didn’t see much in spring training, and Shildt conceded that’s partially because Gallegos didn’t get a lengthy look in Jupiter, Fla.

“Probably should have done a better job of figuring out what his capabilities were in spring training, quite honestly,” the manager said Friday. “We had him in a bucket that didn’t allow him to stay as long in major-league camp. Now, put him anywhere.”

That was the plan for the bullpen.

Gallegos and Brebbia have added to Shildt’s pieces.

“Be ready every game, any situation,” Gallegos said, echoing what he’s heard from Eversgerd. “Come in aggressive at any time.”

MAYERS DECISION LOOMING

Reliever Mike Mayers will see multi-inning and back-to-back outings in what could be the week that forces the Cardinals to make a tricky roster move. Mayers, who has been on the injured list since April 16 with a lat strain, is nearing the end of his rehab assignment, which can last a maximum of 30 total days for a pitcher. When he exhausts those days and the team determines he’s healthy enough to return, the Cardinals must perform a series of moves that brings him back from the 60-day injured list and then puts him on the active roster.

Mayers is out of options, so any move to get him into the minors as an active player and not rehabbing pitcher would send him through waivers. The Cardinals have a full 40-man roster so clearing a spot for Mayers would mean moving another player to the 60-day IL (Jedd Gyorko has already missed 34 games) or removing a player from the 40-man via trade or designation.

The Cardinals have been exploring trades that would open a spot.

Mayers has made eight appearances for Class AAA Memphis since joining the Redbirds’ bullpen June 26. He’s allowed five runs on 10 hits and five walks through 8 1/3 innings. He’s struck out eight. Three of the five earned runs have come in his past two appearances. Shildt said Mayers will be utilized this week in a way that “gets him used to being in that role before he has to come back.”

PITCHER PROBLEMS

Reds starter Tyler Mahle had two singles and scored two runs in his first two at-bats Friday, becoming the second opposing pitcher of the week to have a two-hit game against the Cardinals. Shildt said the team has concerns about the troubles they’ve had against pitchers at the plate, and he suggested that they needed to do better “treating them like hitters.”

After Mahle’s two singles, opposing pitchers were hitting 24-for-162 (.148) against the Cardinals, above the NL average of .131. But they’re also doing damage. Five pitchers have hit homers against the Cardinals, and as a group pitchers have slugged .265 against the Cardinals. The league average slugging for a pitcher is .170.

EDMAN, ETC.

While the Cardinals were able to retrieve the baseball he hit for his first career grand slam, Tommy Edman was equally excited that he had a place to put it if he wanted. After living out of a suitcase since his promotion to the majors, Edman said he was able to find an apartment in St. Louis to call home — when the team returns from this road trip and he can unpack his suitcase. … Edman’s grand slam was the Cardinals’ first since Patrick Wisdom, also a rookie, hit one off LA lefty Rich Hill on Sept. 15. … Two of the Cardinals’ past three grand slams against Cincinnati have been hit off Robert Stephenson and both by rookie infielders — Edman on Thursday and Aledmys Diaz in Sept. 2016.

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Derrick Goold is the lead Cardinals beat writer for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and past president of the Baseball Writers' Association of America.