Righthander Mike Leake, whose tenure was just two innings in his last start for the Cardinals , also had had only one win over his previous 10 starts after opening the season at 5-2. There was talk, most of it emanating from Leake, that he didn’t feel as strong recently as he had earlier.
There was little sign of weakness from him Monday night at Busch Stadium. Leake allowed only two singles past infielders, and four overall, and didn’t walk a batter or allow a run in seven innings as he squelched the second-best offensive team in the National League, the Colorado Rockies, in an 8-2 Cardinals victory.
Leake fanned six in a crisp 94-pitch performance punctuated by good defense from nearly all the Cardinals, including Leake himself.
On offense, the Cardinals took advantage of two leadoff walks for two runs in the first inning and then added on with homers by Randal Grichuk, Jose Martinez and Tommy Pham before Yadier Molina’s double and steal of third sparked a two-run eighth.
Leake said any talk of his being weaker “got overblown a touch.”
Then he later said, “It definitely got overblown.”
Manager Mike Matheny said: “He looked good to me.”
Matheny said he hadn’t been told that Leake hadn’t been feeling strong.
“But, obviously, everybody’s antenna was up,” Matheny said. “We were hypersensitive to see if there was anything that looked like he was tired and not rebounding. But he continued right down to his last inning and that was one of his best.
“Good stuff. Good movement. That’s the guy we’ve seen for a good part of the season.”
Pitching coach Derek Lilliquist said Leake had been aggressive with his fastball to get ahead in counts.
“He was getting them to swing at his pitches,” Lilliquist said.
Lilliquist said he hadn’t been concerned about reports of possible fatigue for Leake.
“He’s a real resilient young man and he gives us what he’s got,” Lilliquist said.
Grichuk’s home run, a two-run drive in the fourth inning off Antonio Senzatela, was his 13th overall homer and fourth in four games since being brought off the disabled list.
Martinez, pinch-hitting for Leake, hit his sixth homer. It came in the seventh off lefthander Chris Rusin. And Pham powered his 14th, off Rusin.
Rookie Senzatela (10-4) had blanked the Cardinals for eight innings in Denver on May 26. But this time he walked the first two hitters he faced, Dexter Fowler and Pham, and both scored.
Matheny successfully challenged an out call on a ball hit by Paul DeJong, who drove in one run, and Jedd Gyorko’s double-play ball sent home the second.
But Colorado Gold Glove third baseman Nolan Arenado saved one or two more. With two on and two out, Kolten Wong laced what appeared to be a run-scoring hit to left. But Arenado left his feet near the bag and snared the ball as he landed in foul territory.
“He’s made some of the better plays I’ve ever seen from a third baseman,” Matheny said.
Wong got his first extra-base hit since coming off the disabled list in mid-month when he doubled to left with one out in the fourth. Grichuk then lined his homer into the Cardinals’ bullpen in right.
Leake (7-8) received well above average plays all night — notably from shortstop DeJong, who ranged to his left to take a hit away from DJ LeMahieu in the fourth. DeJong had moved two steps to his left before the pitch, mindful that LeMahieu had singled up the middle in the first inning.
Ground-ball pitchers such as Leake keep infielders engaged.
“Leake was on tonight,” said DeJong, “because it was first-pitch strikes and first guy out. Not getting the leadoff guy on is huge for him the way he pitches.”
The Rockies didn’t have a leadoff man reach base against Leake.
Grichuk’s four homers in four games equaled something Fowler had done in June.
“Just a short swing,” Matheny said. “It’s managing the strike zone.
“There’s going to be a challenge for (Grichuk) every single day to be able to lay off the high fastballs and the breaking balls below the zone. Once he gets a better handle on that, which I think he’s going to continue to improve on, he’s going to cause damage. I see him doing minor things (to improve). I see him at times choking up on the bat. He’s making steps in the right direction and he’s obviously being rewarded for those adjustments.”
Grichuk has spent three brief tours in the minor leagues in the last two seasons, plus rehab options.
“One of the things Randal needs to be commended on,” Matheny said, “is how he’s taking his assignments to go back to Triple-A (or lower) or not to be afraid to take those rehab assignments — to understand that there’s a purpose and that we have faith in him and that this isn’t a major demotion (although he was sent to Class A this year) as much as ‘how we can help get you right?’
“He goes down with a plan to fix things and stays the course. That’s hard. Nobody wants to leave here. Nobody wants to go work on anything. That’s just human nature. They all want to be a part of what we’re doing. They think they’re one swing away.
“But every single time, he’s had this positive approach and attitude.”
The only downside for the Cardinals was that reliever Zach Duke’s second outing after coming back from elbow surgery last off-season wasn’t quite like his first, when he retired two Chicago Cubs in succession on Friday.
In the eighth, Duke walked Walters, allowed a two-run pinch homer by Pat Valaika and a single by Charlie Blackmon.
“You can’t walk the leadoff guy,” Duke said. “I was overthrowing a little and the ball was elevated. These are big-league hitters.”
John Brebbia took over for Duke before Kevin Siegrist finished the eighth.
Brebbia stuck out Arenado then Siegrist, who has fanned eight of the last 13 men he has faced, whiffed Gerardo Parra.
Tyler Lyons fanned the side in the ninth.
Pinch-hitter Greg Garcia’s single drove in one of the runs in the eighth and raised the Cardinals’ pinch-hitting average to .333. That department has been one of the few constants with this team and president of baseball operations John Mozeliak minced no words the other day in Chicago, wondering if the culture and attitude needed to be adjusted in the midst of some disappointing late-inning losses that had stalled any momentum the team could have had.
“When the boss makes a statement, we’re all paying attention,” Matheny said. “We get it. We see things we don’t like. I think that comment was made that ‘Cardinal Baseball’ needs to have a look. We all take a great deal of pride in what it looks like.
“But when you continue to have some of those losses like we talked about, it’s going to continue to try every club. The key is to continue ... to do the next right thing.”
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