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NOTEBOOK

Cardinals notebook: Depleted bullpen makes it to the wire

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Cardinals, Blue Jays play at Busch

St. Louis Cardinals Nick Wittgren pitches in the fourth inning against the Toronto Blue Jays on Tuesday, May 24, 2022 at Busch Stadium. Photo by Robert Cohen, rcohen@post-dispatch.com

Relative to the Cardinals’ bullpen, starter Dakota Hudson was going to throw 100 or more pitches Wednesday. That’s whether that took him to seven innings, which it did, or 4 2/3 innings, which it could have given recent events.

Because of heavy usage during the first two games of the San Diego series at Busch Stadium, the Big Three late-inning relief arms of Giovanny Gallegos, Genesis Cabrera and Ryan Helsley all were unavailable for the game.

“All four, including (Andre) Pallante,” said manager Oliver Marmol by amendment.

Drew VerHagen pitched a spotless eighth but Kodi Whitley encountered all sorts of trouble in the ninth, giving up a home run to Luke Voit and then loading the bases on two walks and a hit. Nick Wittgren entered to gain his first Cardinals save but not before pinch-hitter Robinson Cano flied to the track in left center.

Wittgren, while fairly confident the ball would stay in the park, admitted his heart might have skipped “two or three” beats.

Marmol’s might have, too.

“Didn’t love it,” he said. “I thought (Cano) got a little bit more of it — and I’m so thankful he didn’t.”

A game such as Wednesday’s, “forces you to see guys in situations you wouldn’t do otherwise,” Marmol said. “You get to see Wittgren. You get to see VerHagen. You get to see Whitley. It forces you to take a good look at a guy in situations you normally would not.

“But,” he said, “they’ve got to get outs. If they’re on the roster, they’ve got to get outs.”

Reviewing his at-bat with Cano, Wittgren said, “I thought I made a pretty good pitch on him. It was a down-and-away changeup ... it stayed in. That’s all that matters.”

Left fielder Corey Dickerson said, “The ball was traveling a little better yesterday and today. I don’t know if it was the heat, or what. But I knew it would stay in the park.”

Marmol should have his full complement of relievers ready for the five-game series in four days against the Cubs in Chicago, which begins Thursday.

Gorman out again

Rookie second baseman Nolan Gorman, who hit .387 for May after being brought up nearly two weeks ago, sat out a second consecutive start with lower back stiffness although he said he was better Wednesday. He is not a candidate for the injured list, suggested Marmol.

“It’s just something I’ve dealt with for a little while,” said Gorman, who had a more serious case in spring training. He said he actually felt it in the midst of a three-hit game, including hitting a homer, on Monday.

Gorman took some swings indoors on Wednesday, as he did on Tuesday. “Swinging’s fine,” he said. “It’s more a matter of flexion, bending over.”

Marmol said his concern was Gorman rotating once and “then it hurts to do everything for a long time.”

He said he would re-evaluate Thursday on whether Gorman will be ready for at least several of the Chicago games.

“We just want to be careful,” Marmol said. “He’s been doing a good job and we want to keep him in the lineup.”

Pujols walks it off

It wasn’t a walk-off hit, but Albert Pujols got the same result with his second sacrifice fly of the game on Tuesday night to provide a 3-2 win for the Cardinals. He has had 15 walk-off RBIs as a Cardinal, one more than Ken Boyer.

“I think it brings great memories,” Pujols said. “Obviously, you know, some great ones from the past, but ... I just do whatever I have to do to help this ballclub win.”

Pujols made a point of lauding the Cardinals’ baserunning on Tuesday, whether it was Tommy Edman, who stole third ahead of the sacrifice fly or Paul Goldschmidt going first to third on a single in the first inning.

Despite never having been fast himself, Pujols always has been a smart base runner and he said he learned in spring training from one of the best in Hall of Famer Lou Brock, “spending time on the back fields and telling me how to cut the bases. I remember leading the league in back-to-back years in runs scored,” Pujols said.

“It’s not just the offensive power or the defensive power. There’s a lot of ways you can help this ballclub to win.”

One of those is base running and Pujols said it always has been and always will be a Cardinals tradition.

“Whether it’s here or whether it’s Chicago ... wherever we play, they love the way we play,” he said. “A lot of credit should be given to our coaches in the minor leagues — the way they continue that tradition.

Bullpen sessions

Righthander Jack Flaherty and lefthander Steven Matz, both of whom are dealing with shoulder problems, will throw bullpen sessions on Thursday. If Flaherty, out all season to date, comes through all right, he probably would begin a minor-league rehab assignment next week. Matz, who will throw again on Sunday, might need a minor-league outing.

Left fielder Tyler O’Neill, out because of a sore right shoulder, did some throwing and tracked fly balls on the field before the game. He is still slated for a rehab option sometime this weekend.

Right fielder Dylan Carlson (strained left hamstring) ran in the outfield and also tracked fly balls. He isn’t expected to travel to Chicago but could turn up at Tampa Bay next week.

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