ARLINGTON, TEXAS — One of the reasons why using a reliever as “opener” has been a non-starter for manager Mike Shildt and the Cardinals has nothing to do with engineering a favorable matchup and everything to do with the message.
“If you look at it from that (matchup) perspective, then you can see the value of the opener,” Shildt said Saturday. “Ultimately, in competition, I feel like if you’re telling your guy that is your starter and your guy that you expect two-thirds of the innings from him, but you’re not good enough to get the first one, that’s a tough, tough sale. … It’s hard to look at your best five guys as your starters and say, ‘Hey, you’re my best guy. We just don’t have enough confidence in you to start the game.’”
From its popularization in Tampa Bay to use elsewhere in the majors, the “opener” has spread a strategy of using a reliever to start the game and have a traditional starter follow in the second inning or later. On Friday, the Rangers started reliever Jose Leclerc with the sole intention of having him face the top of the Cardinals’ lineup so that planned starter Adrian Sampson could get deeper into the game before facing hitters for a third time. The gambit worked because Sampson got into the seventh inning.
Such an approach could be form-fitted to the Cardinals’ rotation wobble, especially when they saw the Rangers stack lefthanded batters against first-year starter Dakota Hudson on Saturday. An opener could have countered – or complicated – Texas committing to that lineup. Shildt is reluctant to “deliver” that message to a starter.
The Cardinals saw the extreme of the “opener” ploy last season when Milwaukee switched to a lefty specialist to start a game for the sole purpose of retiring Matt Carpenter. The reliever, Dan Jennings, got his out and gave way to the starter in a move the Cardinals found “unusual” because of the lateness of the Brewers’ decision.
Guaranteeing that desired matchup, however, Shildt understands more than assigning a reliever to the first inning because of the ripple effects it could have for a young starters’ development.
“It’s something we look at. I can’t say that we won’t at some point ever do it,” Shildt said. “The matchup component would probably have the biggest value to it because you can say, ‘This is the spot for this particular pitcher in their lineup.’ But it may not play out that way. So if you force anything it gets everything else sideways.”
SHELBY SEEKS CONTROL
For the first time this season, former Cardinals’ first-round pick Shelby Miller is scheduled to pitch in relief Sunday in hopes that it is his way back into the Rangers’ rotation. Miller has a 9.51 ERA through eight starts this season, and he’s allowed 23 walks in 29 1/3 innings. As part of their rearranging and overlapping use of starters in this series against the Cardinals, Miller is set to appear after Sunday starter Drew Smyly, he said.
“See if I can get back to dialing in my pitches a little bit and get back into a starting role and actually be able to compete and get guys out at the big-league level,” Miller said. “I’ve been struggling a little bit. So, I’m open to anything.”
Miller, 28, missed most of the 2017 and 2018 season recovering from Tommy John surgery. He went 0-4 with a 10.69 ERA in his return with Arizona last fall, and he suggested Sunday those results greeted him as a he rushed back from rehab. This season, he’s lacked the feel for his off-speed pitches and the inability to throw them for strikes and has made his fastball vulnerable and pressed him into hitter’s counts. As a free-agent this past winter, Miller received some interest from the Cardinals, who traded him to Atlanta for Jason Heyward after the 2014 season. The Cardinals discussed a minor-league deal with an invite to camp, he said, and he had major-league offers, including one from Texas.
He called being closer to home on a big-league contract “an easy choice.”
CARP RECALLS TITLE
As he watched Friday’s game against the Rangers, former Cardinals ace Chris Carpenter couldn’t help but recall moments from his start in the 2011 World Series at the Arlington ballpark. In Game 5, Carpenter allowed two runs in seven innings and received a no decision as the Cardinals lost to send the series back to Busch Stadium, where David Freese happened.
During his starts, Carpenter liked to scan the ballpark as he found his focus, and at one point during an inning he made eye contact with Rangers great Nolan Ryan, the Hall of Famer, who was seated behind home plate.
“I don’t know if I caught his eye, too,” Carpenter said, smiling.
The former Cy Young Award winner, as a special assistant and aid to the manager, joins the Cardinals for a series at least once a month to work with pitchers and be available to any players. He said he kept several items from the 2011 World Series championship, he said, including the glove and jersey he had diving into first base for a pivotal out. The jersey still has the dirt streaked across his back from the dive.
CARLSON MISSES CYCLE
Switch-hitting outfielder Dylan Carlson came a single shy of a cycle Thursday for Class AA Springfield as he upped his average to .293 and his slugging percentage to .510. Despite being one of the younger players in the Texas League, Carlson, 20, has been a leading hitter for the S-Cards with six homers, 28 RBIs, and a .878 OPS through 38 games. He homered in consecutive games entering the weekend and had 11 hits in his previous six games.
During Friday night’s game, reliever John Brebbia had to hand over his wedding ring to the unlikeliest of ring bearers, Shildt. The umpire asked Brebbia to remove the ring, by rule, during his appearance. Shildt kept it and momentarily thought about presenting it to Brebbia during a pitching change but thought with the Cardinals losing the timing was off. … With his double in the fifth inning Saturday, Matt Carpenter surpassed Curt Flood to move into 14th all-time in Cardinals history with 272 doubles. … The Cardinals game at Wrigley Field on June 9 has been selected by ESPN for its Sunday Night Baseball broadcast. That moves the start time from the announced 1:20 p.m. to 6:05 p.m. St. Louis time.