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Cards fall in the 10th to the Reds

Carlos Martinez follows through on a pitch during a game against the Reds last Sept. 2 at Busch Stadium. Photo by J.B. Forbes, jforbes@post-dispatch.com

ARLINGTON, TEXAS — With one eye on creatively using the bullpen to get a pitcher deeper into Friday’s game, the Texas Rangers removed their starter by the second inning because everything was going according to plan

The Cardinals did the same because nothing was.

The Cardinals’ pothole-strewn road to .500 stretched on Friday as the Rangers blistered Miles Mikolas for seven runs in the second inning and swaggered off to a 7-3 interleague victory at Globe Life Park. The Rangers hit two home runs and sent 13 batters to the plate in the second inning to quickly send the Cardinals toward their 12th loss in their past 15 games. The May descent already meant changes for the bullpen Friday and should inspire more through the coming days – the meandering lineup or to the inconsistent rotation.

The Cardinals (23-22) haven't been this close to .500 since April 19.

Mikolas, a former Ranger back in Texas for the first time since reinventing himself as an All-Star, had allowed four runs before he got his first out of the second inning. Roughned Odor ragged him for a three-run homer, and three batters later leadoff hitter Shin-Soo Choo had a two-run homer that catapulted Texas toward a 7-0 lead before Mikolas was removed from the game and left reliever Giovanny Gallegos to sidestep a bases-loaded mess. The Rangers’ seven runs in one inning was a season high for the team, and their eight hits are the most a Texas lineup had in a single sinning since April 2016.

It was just more of the same for the Cardinals on the road.

The Cardinals’ lineup has averaged slightly less than five runs a game on the road – which isn’t shabby until it’s revealed that the pitchers have allowed more than five earned runs on the road. Through the first 21 road games this season, the Cardinals’ pitchers had an ERA that was the worst in the National League (5.10) outside of the worst team in the National League, Miami (5.28). With Mikolas’ dud Friday, the rotation’s ERA on the road mushroomed to 6.17 through 108 innings.

Through 21 games last season, the rotation had a 3.30 ERA.

The unreliable rotation – which is less than a week removed from its first stretch of four consecutive quality starts – has left the bullpen and the lineup to carry the team, even as the Cardinals won 20 of their first 30 games. The bullpen got an infusion of power Friday with the returns of Carlos Martinez and Ryan Helsley and expulsion for veterans Dominic Leone and Luke Gregerson. Cardinals manager Mike Shildt has acknowledged internal discussions about altering the look of the lineup. The access this weekend to the designated hitter at the American League ballpark gives Shildt the chance to start Jose Martinez and Harrison Bader, just as it could offer the nudge to rethink the top of the order. Through seven innings Friday, Matt Carpenter, Paul Goldschmidt, and Paul DeJong – the top three batters in the Cardinals’ lineup – had combined to go two-for-11.

Carpenter continues to see his average loiter around .200 even as e went one-for-four with a single Friday.

The Cardinals had scored four runs in their previous 25 innings entering the eighth inning Friday. Two of them came on solo homers in Atlanta. The other two, scored in the third inning Friday, came on an error and out.

Goldschmidt chopped into a misplayed grounder that brought home Bader for the Cardinals’ first run, and Marcell Ozuna outran a double play to get an RBI with a groundout that gave the Cardinals their second run.

With their seven runs off Mikolas, the Rangers had 23 runs in an eight-inning span.

Into that buzzsaw, Mikolas tossed pitches that strayed up, deliciously, in the zone. When given pitches in that location, even the swings are bigger in Texas. Joey Gallo started the second inning with a ground-rule double into right field. Mikolas hit the next batter. Logan Forsythe followed with a line-drive single, and Odor crushed the first pitch he saw for his sixth homer of the season. In the span of four batters, Texas had a 4-0 lead. It got worse. No. 9 hitter Jeff Mathis laced a single, and after a visit from pitching coach Mike Maddux, Mikolas served a 1-2 pitch that Choo that put in the right-center seats.

A double followed, and Gallo finally chased Mikolas from the game with an RBI single to score Willie Calhoun.

The Cardinals’ bullpen pitched the final six innings without allowing a run. Tyler Webb retired all eight batters he faced and had five strikeouts. Although the subject of the most dramatic changes of the season, the bullpen has been, arguably, the stoutest facet of the roster for the Cardinals, while the lineup has proven fickle and the rotation porous.

Borrowing from Tampa Bay and Milwaukee and other teams that have used the “opener” concept, the Rangers started a reliever, Jose Leclerc. The scripted goal of Leclerc’s appearance was to get through the top of the Cardinals’ lineup so actual “starter” Adrian Sampson could go deeper into the game before seeing them for a third time. It’s the same strategy the Rangers intend to use Saturday with Ariel Jurado set to enter the game in the second inning as the true starter. Former Cardinals starter Shelby Miller is also available in relief this weekend.

Leclerc retired the first three batters in the Cardinals’ order, two of them by strikeout, and then dutifully took a seat in the dugout, his evening over.

With the head start, Sampson pitched 5 1/3 innings and allowed one earned run on seven hits. Carpenter, Goldschmidt & Co. didn’t come up for a fourth time in the game – what would have been a third time against Sampson – until the seventh inning. The “opener” ploy worked to get Sampson that stepladder to later innings, and he responded by retiring nine of 10 batters in his second spin through the Cardinals’ lineup.

Mikolas, meanwhile, didn’t weather his first look at the Rangers’ lineup.

He was the Cardinals’ unplanned opener.

***

Cards reset relief by promoting Martinez, Helsley and demoting Leone, designating Gregerson

After a little more than 20 pitches Thursday night for Class AAA Memphis, righthander Ryan Helsley was abruptly removed from his appearance with the Redbirds and told to save a few pitches for the next day. He was headed back to the Cardinals.

He'd be meeting the team and Carlos Martinez in the Lone Star State as part of an overhaul of the bullpen that would remove two veterans.

In a series of moves Friday, the Cardinals promoted Helsley, recalled Martinez from a rehab assignment, and loosed Dominic Leone and Luke Gregerson from the bullpen. Leone was optioned to Class AAA Memphis. Gregers was designated for assignment, setting the stage for his release at the start of next week. Martinez and Helsley will both be available out of the bullpen Friday night as the Cardinals face the Rangers. (Lineups below.) Helsley had his outing Thursday stopped so he would be available, and Martinez recovered from his outing earlier in the week to only need one day of rest.

"It's a pretty good bullpen," manager Mike Shildt said.

It certainly has more velocity -- and perhaps more elasticity.

Helsley and Martinez are both geared to go multiple innings, and they will both face left and right hitters. John Gant is also ready to go multiple innings, so that gives the Cardinals three relievers who lineup against lefthanded batters and can got multiple innings. Shildt outlined a way that Martinez could handle the seventh and eighth inning one day and then Gant could the next, or they could be the answer for the seventh and eighth one day, with Helsley mixing in the next.

Andrew Miller would be on call for a tough lefthanded assignment. 

Gregerson's second tour with the Cardinals concludes less than 14 months after he was considered the team's closer. A two-year deal never generated much return for the Cardinals or the veteran because of health troubles. When he did return from ailments this season, the snap and veracity of his pitches were lacking, and after his outing Thursday night he was notified of the Cardinals' decision.

Some other news from the pre-game in Arlington:

• Alex Reyes has been cleared to begin fielding and could be in game action by the start of next week. He will throw one more time from behind an L-screen in a backfield field outing on Saturday. He'll throw between 70 and 80 pitches. His next appearance will likely be for Palm Beach, out of the High-A affiliate's rotation. He is going to the Florida State League team so that he does not have to hit right away with his healing left hand.

Reyes fractured the left hand punching a wall after a game in Triple-A.

• Austin Gomber experienced soreness in his left biceps and has been placed on Memphis' injured list. The lefty is expected to miss two starts.

• Brett Cecil has been cleared to begin throwing and will do so at the start of this next week. He and Mike Mayers are considered in the early stages of spring training and are more than four weeks away from being considered for rehab assignments. Cecil said he expects to return to the majors around the All-Star break if his recovery goes well.

• The Cardinals will start their journey home from spring training for the 2020 season with a stopover in Arlington to be a part of the Rangers' soft opening of their new ballpark. The new park is adjacent to Globe Life Park, where the Cardinals are playing this weekend for the first time since the 2011 World Series.

***

Gregerson designated for assignment, Leone demoted as Cards activate Martinez, recall Helsley

From earlier ...

Two key acquisitions for the Cardinals bullpen a year ago were cast aside Friday as the club made room for Carlos Martinez and Ryan Helsley to rejoin the roster before an interleague series against the Texas Rangers.

Luke Gregerson was designated for assignment and Dominic Leone was optioned to Class AAA Memphis as the Cardinals activated Martinez from the injured list and promoted Helsley from Memphis.

The Cardinals signed free agent Gregerson to a two-year, $11 million contract before the 2018 season but haven't received much for their money. Injuries limited him to 11 games in 2018, and he began the '19 season on the injured list before being activated on May 4. Gregerson, 35, appeared in six games and allowed 11 hits in 6 2/3 innings with a 7.99 ERA.

Leone, 27, came to the Cardinals from Toronto in a trade for outfielder Randal Grichuk before the 2018 season. He pitched in 20 games this season and had an 8.04 ERA with no decisions.

Martinez, 27, is 54-38 in his Cardinals career and ended the 2018 season as a reliever. He has been on the injured list all season because of a right shoulder strain.

Helsley, 24, made his major-league debut with the Cardinals on April 16 and appeared in three games before being sent down. He pitched 6 1/3 innings, allowed three hits, struck out seven and posted a 2.84 ERA in his first stint with the Cardinals.

Post-Dispatch baseball writer Derrick Goold will update this story tonight from Arlington Texas.


Still no movement in the Cardinals lineup for Friday's game, with the exception of Harrison Bader taking over the 9-hole as the designated hitter comes into play for the three-game series against the Rangers. 

Bader will play center field and Dexter Fowler will move to right field as Jose Martinez fills the DH slot against the Rangers, who are expected to use their former closer, righthander Jose Leclerc, as an "opener" against the Cardinals. Leclerc likely will give way to righthander Adrian Sampson after one inning.

CARDINALS LINEUP

1. Carpenter 3B

2. Goldschmidt 1B

3. DeJong SS

4. Ozuna LF

5. J. Martinez DH

6. Molina C

7. Fowler RF

8. Wong 2B

9. Bader CF

Starting pitcher: Mikolas

RANGERS LINEUP 

1. Choo RF

2. Calhoun LF

3. Pence DH

4. Gallo, CF

5. Cabrera 3B

6. Forsythe SS

7. Odor 2B

8. Guzman 1B

9. Mathis C

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