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Cardinals notebook: Back from his minor tuneup, Dakota Hudson makes major statement

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Cardinals beat Cincinnati Reds 5-1 in of doubleheader

St. Louis Cardinals starting pitcher Dakota Hudson (43) goes to work in the first inning of game 1 of a doubleheader against the Cincinnati Reds on Saturday, Sept. 17, 2022, at Busch Stadium. 

The four-hour drive down to Memphis gave Cardinals starter Dakota Hudson plenty of necessary time for some “self talk” about how to assure his demotion to Class AAA was not a one-way trip.

“If you don’t take yourself back and think about what you’ve been doing and where you’re going, you’re never going to come back,” Hudson said. “That’s where I had to go and have that mental talk with myself and say, ‘Hey, is this what we’re going to do? How do I get, personally, to my best?’”

His return to the Cardinals on Saturday headed him in the right direction.

With a career-best eight innings and a swift, peppy pace to his performance in Game 1 of the doubleheader, Hudson threw himself into the mix for starts and a potential postseason role. After two starts for the Triple-A Redbirds, Hudson (8-7) resurfaced in the majors with the start the Cardinals had been looking for so often this season. Hudson was able to blend his sinker and four-seam fastball, get quick outs, and held Cincinnati to one unearned run in the Cardinals’ 5-1 victory.

He was efficient, without the prolonged pauses.

Hudson completed six shutout innings on 80 pitches.

“What we’ve been waiting for,” manager Oliver Marmol said. “Legit outing.”

In his first full season since elbow reconstructive surgery, Hudson struggled with consistency, the pitches he could count on from start to start, and tempo. The rinse cycle through Memphis helped address them all. He had little choice. The pitch clock that’s coming to the majors in 2023 is already counting down in the minors, requiring pitchers to deliver a pitch within 14 seconds of receiving it with no runners on base. A violation gives the hitter a ball.

Hudson felt the tick-tock of the clock and adjusted how he received the ball from the catcher to expedite his process. He consciously tried to recreate that sensation Saturday to maintain the swift pace demanded of him at Triple-A. In his previous major-league starts, Hudson averaged 16.4 seconds between pitches — one of the slowest paces in the majors — and on Saturday he averaged 12.03 seconds. With runners on base he also was five seconds faster, according to research by Post-Dispatch digital baseball producer Carter Chapley.

“I was working a little quicker, (and) I was able to find some rhythm,” Hudson said. “I was able to find some rhythm so I was just like if that rhythm is going to be there, I might as well use it. Trying to continue what I was doing as far as process then trying to execute pitches. It was about trusting myself to get to the mitt.”

Hudson pitched around two errors, including his own, and got help from two catches at the wall by outfielders. He also got nine groundouts. Most of his 102 pitches were split between his fastball, sinker, and a slider that he used with increased effectiveness.

As the 29th man for Saturday’s doubleheader, Hudson will be returned to the minor-league roster to complete his minimum stay in the minors. He’s likely to travel with the team to the west coast and be available within the week for his next. Assignment, TBD.

It will be the trip to Memphis that got him back.

“If it helps me refocus and make more pitches, it will be a good thing,” Hudson said. “As much as I hated it, as much as it did make me angry, maybe it’s something that will help me turn the page.”

Matz back, Hicks on IL

The Cardinals accelerated Steven Matz’s return to the majors by several days when they added him to the active roster in time for Saturday’s evening half of the doubleheader. The lefty, out since July with a left knee injury, had been scheduled to appear one more time for Class AAA Memphis in Iowa before joining the Cardinals for the upcoming road trip.

The sudden unavailability of Jordan Hicks made the move possible.

Hicks went on the 15-day injured list with fatigue in his right arm and spasms in his neck. The move was backdated to Sept. 15, though the mandatory stay on the IL assures he won’t be eligible to return until the final home series of the regular season. At most, he’ll be eligible for five games before the start of the playoffs.

Limited to one start since the end of May, Matz did not have enough time remaining in the season to build up arm strength and stamina to start, so he’s worked his way back as a reliever and intrigued the Cardinals as the late-game, lefty deterrent they’ve coveted. Matz struck out five in 4 1/3 innings spread over four appearances at Class AA and Class AAA. In three of his four outings he did not allow a baserunner. The Cardinals saw the upcoming road trip as a chance to use Matz in targeted spots against left-handed batters they might face in the playoffs, such as San Diego’s Juan Soto, LA’s Cody Bellinger, Joey Gallo, and Max Muncy, and Milwaukee’s Christian Yelich.

O’Neill races calendar with new injury

Outfielder Tyler O’Neill is hopeful that a left hamstring strain won’t linger so long that it keeps him from contributing in the postseason, should the Cardinals qualify. O’Neill felt a fissure of pain in his leg as he stole second base Friday night. An MRI taken of the area revealed a Grade 1 tear of the hamstring along with inflammation and swelling.

O’Neill was placed on the 10-day injured list with the injury, and the Cardinals believe he’ll be able to return within two weeks, close to the final week of the regular season.

“These first 72 hours are going to be telling for me,” O’Neill said. “See where it goes.”

This is the second time O’Neill has gone on the IL with a hamstring injury and third time this season he’s had the season interrupted by an IL stint.

The Cardinals brought Dylan Carlson (thumb) back to take O’Neill’s place — and play his way back into being O’Neill’s replacement as the usual center fielder. Carlson’s return also opens a way for Juan Yepez’s promotion to the majors or joining the team on the taxi squad. Carlson doubled from both sides of the plate in his only rehab appearance with Class AAA Memphis on Friday, and his assignment there was cut short by two days to be in the Game 1 lineup Saturday. He doubled in his second at-bat.

Extra bases

Tommy Edman stole his 30th base of his season in Game 1 to become the first Cardinal with that many in back-to-back seasons since Royce Clayton in 1996-97. The previous Cardinal to have two seasons of 30 or more homers at any point in their tenure was Edgar Renteria with more than 30 steals in 1999 and 2003. … Yadier Molina’s home run in Game 1 gave him 68 at Busch Stadium III, tying Matt Carpenter for the third-most in the ballpark’s history. … Albert Pujols two walks in Game 1 gave him 999 as a Cardinal, second only to Stan Musial’s 1,599. Pujols appeared in his 1,653rd game that his team won, and that ties Musial for the fourth-most in Major League Baseball history. … The Game 1 victory was their 50th home win of the season. The Cardinals have won at least 50 home games seven times in the 16 full seasons played at Busch III. From 2012 through 2015, they won at least 50 games in four consecutive seasons.

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