WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — Lefthander Austin Gomber, whose 2019 season effectively ended in mid-May when he encountered biceps tendinitis after going 4-0 at Memphis, appeared back in form Sunday. Gomber missed three months before working a couple of short-inning outings at lower levels of the minors.
But before Sunday’s game with Houston, manager Mike Shildt said, “I think his stuff is just as crisp as I remember.”
“Crisp” would be one way to describe Gomber’s second Grapefruit League start. “Dominant” would be good, too. Gomber, who was 7-3 for the Cardinals in 2018, faced nine Houston hitters in three innings, striking out four. Only one Astro, much-booed Jose Altuve, reached base on a single in the first but was cut down at second by catcher Andrew Knizner as Altuve tried to advance on a short wild pitch.
Shildt agreed that Gomber was beyond "crisp" on Sunday. "Extra crispy," said Shildt, chuckling.
But, for the most part, Shildt wasn't in too much of a laughing mood after Rob Kaminsky and Nabil Crismatt combined for four walks, three by Kaminsky, and a wlld pitch in the ninth inning. The Astros, who didn't lead until the final ball four pitch, pulled out a 5-4 exhibition victory.
"We played really good baseball," said Shildt. "Regardless of what game it is, you'd like to see it rewarded."
The Cardinals led 3-0 in the fourth after homers by Paul DeJong (No. 3) and Tyler O’Neill, who hit his second but the Astros rallied for three runs in the sixth against John Gant, who had worked two good innings.
The score was tied at 3-3 entering the ninth before minor league catcher Dennis Ortega hit a home run into the Astros' bullpen in left off Nivaldo Rodriguez for a 4-3 Cardinals lead. Ortega hit one homer in 200 at-bats this past season for Class A Palm Beach.
In the home ninth, Ortega, after tracking down a wild pitch, flipped to lefthanded reliever Kaminsky, covering the plate, and Kaminsky, after making a barehanded reception, tagged out the potential tying run.
But, with two out, Kaminsky then walked home the tying run. And righthander Crismatt, walked home the winning run.
DeJONG HOMERS TWICE IN TWO DAYS
Cardinals shortstop DeJong, who homered to right field on Saturday, smacked a two-run homer to left off Houston side-wheeler Joe Smith in the third inning for the first scoring of the day on Sunday.
"I usually don’t have success against guys like that," DeJong said. "But I was looking for something up from him.
"He was worried about the guy (Kolten Wong) at first. Having base runners is one of those things that can change an at-bat, change the pitcher’s focus level and then allows him to make a mistake to me and I’m ready pounce."
DeJong, who also doubled to right in the first inning, is six for 11 with three homers and a double this spring. His best at-bat may have come in the fifth. DeJong ran up a 14-pitch at-bat, narrowly missing another two-run homer when his long drive to left went foul, before he flied to center against Enoli Paredes.
"The wind pulled it foul," said DeJong. "He backed up a slider inside and it just kind of spun there. I reacted, and pulled my hands in. That was an insane at-bat. I’m just kind of sad I got out."
'CARP' READY BUT B.MILLER IS DOWN
Matt Carpenter is out of the Cardinals’ lineup for the fourth day in succession. But the Cardinals’ third baseman, who has been sidelined with a tight back, said he expected to be playing Monday when the Cardinals entertain the Minnesota Twins in Jupiter, Fla.
"That seems like a reasonable thing," said manager Mike Shildt, 'based on the progression he's got for today with ground balls and full (batting practice). He'll be ready to go tomorrow if all things check out."
But while Carpenter is ready to come back, Yairo Munoz, who had been playing third on Saturday, will be out for weeks with a strained left hamstring suffered on Saturday. And, just before game time here on Sunday, Brad Miller, who was supposed to play third base against Houston, was scratched with lower back stiffness after he had taken batting practice in Jupiter, Fla., the Cardinals' home base.
Shildt estimated this would cost Miller some three days. Carpenter will have been out four days if he plays Monday.
MUNOZ FELT A 'POP'
Shildt said Munoz felt a "pop" in his hamstring while running to first base on Saturday.
"It's bad timing," Shildt said. "The good news is that we've got some depth. We've got almost a month but hamstrings take a while."
MIKOLAS' NEXT STEP
Righthander Miles Mikolas, who has been tending to a flexor tendon strain, will begin playing catch on March 11, Shildt said. Mikolas won’t be ready for the start of the season and likely will be left here at the end of spring training in three weeks to continue his recuperation. He received a platelet-rich plasma injection in his forearm nearly two weeks ago.
Mikolas probably will miss the first two or three weeks of the season. "He'll be starting from ground zero standpoint for a throwing progression standpoint," said Shildt. "It will be sometime into April. April 10th, 11th and go from there."
Lefthanders Kwang Hyun Kim will start and Genesis Cabrera will follow him on Monday. Lefthanders Brett Cecil and Andrew Miller and righthander John Brebbia also are slated.
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