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St. Louis Cardinals take on Oakland Athletics at Busch

St. Louis Cardinals first baseman Matt Carpenter runs back to the dugout after 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

Tyler O’Neill, who had four runs batted in for his first 66 at-bats with the Cardinals this season, knocked in four runs in his first two at-bats Saturday night. Dakota Hudson, who scored his eighth victory, and three relievers held the early lead for a 4-2 Cardinals win over Arizona at Busch Stadium before a hefty paid crowd of 46,152.

O'Neill doubled in two runs in the first and hit a two-run homer in the third as the Cardinals took a 4-1 lead.

Back in the Cardinals’ lineup after missing Friday’s game, O'Neill capitalized on a two-out error by Arizona third baseman Jake Lamb by sending a soft liner to left with two men on base, chasing them both home on a double in the first inning.

Arizona starter Merrill Kelly, who had spent the past four seasons in the Korean League, walked Jose Martinez with one out and Paul DeJong grounded into a forceout. Lamb backed up on Paul Goldschmidt’s bouncer and muffed the hop as he tried to make a play.

O’Neill then served one 71 mph off the bat but just on the foul line to drive in DeJong and Goldschmidt, who scored standing up from first for the first two runs of the game.

Kelly’s rough inning continued when he walked Dexter Fowler and Matt Wieters but he struck out Kolten Wong to leave the bases loaded.

The Diamondbacks rallied for a run in the second but  Hudson, with Michael Wacha warming up in the bullpen, pitched out of subsequent, bases-loaded, no-out spot to keep the score at 2-1.

Adam Jones was hit by a pitch and Lamb walked before Nick Ahmed singled to center. Not only did Jones score but the D-backs made the Cardinals look bad as Lamb went to third and Ahmed to second when Fowler threw to third.

Carson Kelly walked to load the bases and then Merrill Kelly bounced to third baseman Matt Carpenter, who fired home for a forceout and out No. 1.  

The key out was Hudson striking out Jarrod Dyson and then Ketel Marte flied to deep right.

After Goldschmidt was robbed of at least an extra-base hit when left fielder Dyson went to the top of the left-center-field wall in the third, O’Neill knocked in his third and fourth runs on the night with a two-run homer to right.

His second homer of the season scored DeJong, who had reached first safely when Merrill Kelly fumbled his roller along the first-base line.

Eduardo Escobar’s solo homer in the fifth, his 19th, cut the Cardinals’ lead to 4-2.

Carlos Martinez worked the final 1 1/3 innings, gained his fourth save in five tries, striking out three. The Cardinals ended a losing streak at three games at they climbed back to .500 at 45-45.

WAINWRIGHT, 'PONCE' TO START  

Adam Wainwright played catch and took batting practice Saturday afternoon. And if his back, in which he had spasms beginning Wednesday night while he was watching television in bed and then got out to brush his teeth, passes the test, the veteran righthander will be pitching for the Cardinals Sunday afternoon against Arizona.

“He’s trending that way,” said manager Mike Shildt. Wainwright is listed as the pitcher on the Cardinals' game notes.  

Wainwright, who was to have started on Friday, thus would move Miles Mikolas and Jack Flaherty back a day to Monday and Tuesday, respectively, against Pittsburgh.

The next start against Pittsburgh tentatively had been slated for Michael Wacha. But righthander  Daniel Ponce de Leon’s strong 6 2/3 inning performance _ he gave up just one run and three hits _ in Wainwright’s stead Friday, catapulted him into that Wednesday start.

Shildt made the  announcement after Saturday’s game that Ponce de Leon, who has a 1,99 ERA, would go ahead of Wacha.

“'Ponce' pitched really well,” said Shildt. “We can’t ignore how well he’s pitched.”

WAINWRIGHT SEEKS 200 INNINGS AGAIN

Wainwright said he had been a “little stiff” on Friday but said he could have pitched. He was told not to “push it.”

“I’ve pitched with way worse back situations than that,” said Wainwright. “I told Shildty that I want to pitch well and feel like I’m on the verge of doing that for a very long time. I don’t want to have a setback.”

Wainwright then cited an July game in Chicago two years ago when he pitched with back discomfort that was significantly more serious than what he felt this week. Wainwright pitched brilliantly until the eighth inning until he came out, He went on the disabled list with mid-back tightness, which morphed into the elbow problems that dogged him the rest of that season and much of last year.

“That (game) was the cause of my 2017 demise, really,” he said. “They have nightmares about that and they say, ‘No, you’re not going to do that to your elbow again.’”

That he was slated to start the first game after the All-Star break “gave me some great confidence going into the second half,” Wainwright said. “They thought I had been pitching pretty consistently and could carry that on.”

Not since 2016, when he pitched 198 2/3 innings has Wainwright been even close to the gold standard of 200 innings. But, having pitched 87 2/3 so far, he said, “(200) is still my goal. I want to really push it in the second half and to have a little return to form would be great. I’ve been really close to doing things the way I want to do them.”

CARPENTER BACK TO LEADOFF

Tommy Edman has been a spark for the Cardinals in the last several weeks after being brought up, but not necessarily from the leadoff spot.

Edman is hitting just .205 while batting first, about the same as everyone else, mostly Matt Carpenter, who has hit there this season. But Shildt is going back Saturday who’s been there the most, Carpenter.

Carpenter, who had a single in four at-bats on Friday while batting fifth, will hit first against Arizona Saturday night, with Edman sitting, Kolten Wong playing second and Tyler O’Neill in the outfield instead of Harrison Bader, whose average has shrunk to a dreadful .203.

Shildt said the leadoff spot still "could be fluid. You always want somebody to just take it, but it could be fluid,"

Dakota Hudson (7-4), the leading winner among the Cardinals’ starters, with seven, will face Arizona rookie Merrill Kelly, no relation to his catcher, former Cardinal Carson Kelly.

M. Kelly (7-8) had pitched the previous four seasons in the Korean League, compiling a 48-32 record after spending five seasons in the Tampa Bay minor league system.

WHERE’S THE BEEF?

The Cardinals entered Saturday’s game 11th in team batting average at .243 and 12th in runs scored in the National League. All signs, metrics and otherwise, point to the Cardinals being a better team than last year at this time, said Shildt. Except that they aren’t _ largely because of an inconsistent, sometimes puny, offense.

“If we keep playing the game like we’ve played it and we score, then no team would want to come close to playing is any series or any scenario," said Shildt.  "But we have to do it.”

SHILDT SALUTES ANGELS

In their first home game after the death of pitcher Tyler Skaggs, two Los  Angeles Angels pitchers threw a no-hitter Friday night and, afterward, the Angels’ players all wearing No. 45 Skaggs jerseys lay those jerseys on the mound. Shildt thought the gesture was a grand one.

“I’m a man of faith. I don’t need it to solidify my faith but it just says there’s something in line with the world, higher than us, and that’s probably out of the breadth of my position," said Shildt. "But I thought it was wonderful.”

Rookie Andrew Knizner, who likely will catch Sunday, was in El Paso, Texas., ready to play in the Class AAA All-Star Game Wednesday when he heard he was going to the big leagues to replace injured Yadier Molina. “I found out right after batting practice,” said Knizner. “I didn’t really want to play in the game.” And he didn’t.

CARDINALS LINEUP

1. Matt Carpenter 3b

2. Jose Martinez rf

3. Paul DeJong ss

4, Paul Goldschmidt 1b

5. Tyler O’Neill lf

6. Dexter Fowler cf

7. Matt Wieters c

8. Kolten Wong 2b

9 Dakota Hudson p

ARIZONA LINEUP

1. Jarrod Dyson lf

2. Ketel Marte cf

3. Eduardo Escobar 2b

4. Christian Walker 1b

5. Adam Jones rf

6. Jake Lamb 3b

7. Nick Ahmed ss

8. Carson Kelly p

9. Merrill Kelly p

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Rick Hummel is a Cardinals beat writer for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.