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No-hitter or not, bullpens need to be ready

St. Louis Cardinals starting pitcher Dakota Hudson walks to the dugout after being removed during the seventh inning of a baseball game against the Milwaukee Brewers, Monday, Aug. 19, 2019, in St. Louis. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

DENVER — For several days, as is custom ‘round Coors Field, the Cardinals have fielded questions about the challenges of Colorado’s ballpark and how, as one Cardinal put it this week, “runs fall from the sky.” And they have made choices and approached innings waiting and waiting and waiting for that characteristic cloudburst to come their way.

They’re still waiting.

In a curious role reversal that is inching toward a full-blown concern, the Colorado starters the Cardinals handled with aplomb in St. Louis have stifled them at Coors. For the second time in as many games the Cardinals managed a run and, as a result, lost 2-1 to the Rockies on Wednesday at Coors. The loss allowed the third-place Brewers the chance to gain another game on the division-leading Cardinals, and left the Cubs to do the same with a late game in San Diego. In a series dictated by pitching, the Cardinals have managed two runs, both driven home by Paul Goldschmidt.

To reward starter Antonio Senzatela’s six superb innings, the Rockies rallied from a deficit for two runs off Cardinals starter Dakota Hudson. Ian Desmond tagged the rookie with a solo homer to center field in the sixth inning that broke the tie and proved to be the game-winner.

The Cardinals got the potential tying run to third base in the ninth inning after a double play unplugged what could have been a larger rally. Pinch-hitter Rangel Ravelo drilled a liner to left that Desmond caught on the run to end the game.

Hudson had won five consecutive starts and the Cardinals had won his previous six. That run included six scoreless innings on Aug. 24 against these same Rockies in a game the Cardinals won, 6-0. The Cardinals’ rookie starter had allowed seven hits total in his previous 26 1/3 innings. The Rockies managed only four against him Wednesday, but scattered around them were five walks, one of which became the tying run in the fifth inning. Other than the homer by Desmond – his 17th of the season – Hudson wasn’t fazed by Coors, which has played tame this week.

During their pitchers’ meeting Tuesday at Coors Field, veteran starter Adam Wainwright spoke to the group and its young pitchers about not getting caught in the clouds of the ballpark’s reputation, its altitude, or its spacious outfield. One of Wainwright’s signature games came at Coors back in 2009 when he struck out 11 and allowed two earned runs in eight innings for his 19th victory of that season. The Cardinals clinched a playoff berth that night, and in the champagne haze team ace Chris Carpenter stood in a back corner of the clubhouse and said Wainwright’s performance that night should have clinched him the Cy Young Award.

Wainwright finished third in the voting.

Carpenter finished runnerup to Tim Lincecum.

“Experience is a valuable thing,” manager Mike Shildt said before relaying Wainwright’s message. “Just understand it’s about execution. And know that being down is important as far as how the ball is going to have a little more life to it. Just don’t try to make this bigger than it is. Don’t try to do anything special. Just execute with your pitches and it’s just like anywhere else.”

If there was any doubt that Coors could be tamed, the Cardinals pitchers have got an eyeful of evidence so far in this series.

It’s just come from the opponents.

The difficulty the Cardinals have had in this series against Rockies starters at 5,280 feet above sea level is a stark contrast to what they did just a few weeks ago in St. Louis.

At river level, the Cardinals flooded Chi Chi Gonzalez and Senzatela with runs. The two righthanders combined to pitch six innings in two starts at Busch Stadium and they allowed 11 runs on eight hits and eight walks. Gonzalez got his first win of the season on Tuesday night with a sharp cutter that he didn’t have a feel for in St. Louis, and that befuddled the Cardinals in the first game of this series, holding them to a single run that scored on a groundout. Senzatela followed Wednesday with six more solid innings, and again it was his aggressiveness that kept the Cardinals grounded.

Dexter Fowler reached base in all three plate appearances against Senzatela and got to scoring position twice. Once he scored. In the first inning, with the bases loaded, Paul DeJong chopped into an inning-ending double play.

In the sixth, with DeJong at second, Yadier Molina grounded out.

Senzatela held the Cardinals to one run on four hits and two walks. He kept them one-for-four with runners in scoring position, and the one hit he allowed was Paul Goldschmitd’s RBI double that briefly put the Cardinals ahead 1-0 in the third inning. Entering the ninth inning Wednesday, the Cardinals were 2-for-16 (.125) with runners in scoring position in the series.

With the quality start, Senzatela combined with Gonzalez to hold the Cardinals to two runs combined on eight hits, and they struck out nine. At the beginning of the week, the Rockies had by far the worst home ERA of any pitching staff in the majors, and at Coors their pitchers had allowed an OPS from opponents that was around .885. The Cardinals’ leader in OPS this season is Ozuna, at .827.

In his first start at Coors Field, Hudson arrived as the prototype starter the Rockies used to covet, to chase, to try and develop. A strapping, tall sinkerballer with upside velocity has long been the profile of pitcher that is believed to thrive in the hitter friendly ballpark. For four innings, Hudson certainly did before encountering turbulence. He got three groundouts from the Rockies in a perfect second inning, and skirted around a leadoff single in the third with a strikeout and two more outs in the infield. His second time through the middle of the Rockies’ lineup included strikeouts of Ryan McMahon and Desmond. A leadoff walk to No. 7 hitter Sam Hilliard began the issues in the fifth.

Hilliard scored when No. 8 hitter Tony Wolters doubled past Fowler in right field and that tied the game. Another walk put two runners on with one out. Eventually, Hudson would get a key groundout and have first base open as Nolan Arenado came to the plate.

He didn’t get close to the box before the Cardinals signaled for the intentional walk.

With the bases loaded, Hudson got a fly ball from cleanup hitter Daniel Murphy that traveled deep toward the left-field corner. Marcell Ozuna recovered his route in time to track the ball to the warning track, leap, and make the catch before taking a stride or two into the wall. That catch ended the inning and kept the Rockies from taking the lead.

They’d do that an inning later on Desmond’s homer.

***

Hudson aims to start Cardinals next winning streak by continuing his

As Dakota Hudson made his way to the majors and now through his first full season as a starter in the majors, the inevitable question that attaches to any prospect has followed him as well: Who does he compare to? The candidates come from a cast of sinkerballers that range from former Cy Young Award-winner Brandon Webb to former greedy-groundout-getter Aaron Cook.

The answer, however, is probably more general.

He's the pitcher the Colorado Rockies used to crave, to covet, to collect.

As the Rockies sought to tame their too-high ballpark and their too-thin altitude, one theory suggested that they go after pitchers who kept the ball on the ground. This worked to some extent -- especially after they stopped trimming the infield grass short enough to turn it into a pool table. Sinkerballers had success, and then as velocity spiked in the game and power sinkers started to flourish that was the profile of a pitcher who could excel at Coors.

Enter Hudson.

The Cardinals' rookie starter has ridden his sinker to a team-high 15 wins and pushed his way into the race to be the runnerup in the National League's Rookie of the Year vote. Hudson has won five consecutive decisions, and the Cardinals have won his past six starts.

In his last 26 1/3 innings he's allowed seven hits. That's it.

The Cardinals got an RBI groundout for their only run Tuesday night against the Rockies in 2-1 loss that left a lot of the folks in the clubhouse muttering about how games like that aren't supposed to happen here. The game took 2 hours, 36 minutes to play, and a lot of that had to do with what Rockies starter Chi Chi Gonzalez was able to do with his cutter. 

Hudson has the pitch that invites groundballs, and while there are a lot of places for even grounders to find hits in the spacious field the Rockies call home that approach can also provide a peppy game.

The loss did not cost the Cardinals in the standings as the Cubs allowed walk-off walk in San Diego to remain four games behind in the division race.

You know it by heart now, but here's the lineup that will back Hudson:

1. Dexter Fowler, RF

2. Kolten Wong, 2B

3. Paul Goldschmidt, 1B

4. Marcell Ozuna, LF

5. Paul DeJong, SS

6. Yadier Molina, C

7. Tommy Edman, 3B

8. Harrison Bader, CF

9. Dakota Hudson, P

Check back throughout the evening here at C-Beat and StlToday.com for any news, notes, anecdotes or happenings from Coors Field.

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