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St. Louis Cardinals take on Oakland Athletics at Busch

St. Louis Cardinals relief pitcher John Brebbia throws the ball in the top of the sixth inning on Tuesday, June 25, 2019, during a game between the Oakland Athletics and the St. Louis Cardinals at Busch Stadium. Photo by Brian Munoz, bmunoz@post-dispatch.com

SEATTLE — They don’t always run in the same groups these days at the ballpark or sit in the same place at the ballpark, but every fifth day or thereabouts reliever John Brebbia gets a reminder why he’s tried since spring training to learn from Miles Mikolas’ approach, 100 pitches at a time.

“He attempts to get outs every time he throws a pitch,” Brebbia said. “Let’s channel our inner Miles and throw strikes and get guys out with all of the stuff.”

With that in mind and multiple pitches at his fingertips Wednesday, Brebbia freed himself from a jarring stretch through June with 2 1/3 scoreless innings of relief against the Mariners. The righthander struck out a career-best six, killed time waiting for a rally, and typified the bullpen’s elasticity that won the interleague series at T-Mobile Park. Brebbia was one of three relievers to cover the starters with at least 1 1/3 innings of work, and combined the bullpen allowed one run in 13 innings over the three-day series.

That run was the homer that decided Tuesday’s loss.

In the remaining two games, including Thursday’s 5-4 win, the Cardinals’ relievers handled 9 2/3 scoreless innings and struck out 14 batters against one walk. Daniel Ponce de Leon echoed Brebbia with 2 2/3 scoreless innings of relief and, like Brebbia, got a win. Andrew Miller appeared in all three games of the series and struck out four of the final six batters he faced. The ability to toggle between targeted relief, like Miller, and versatile or elongated relief, like Brebbia and Ponce de Leon, is strength the Cardinals have sought from their bullpen.

“It’s been an asset for us, especially in a National League setting,” manager Mike Shildt said. “Having length in the bullpen and flexibility is good. It’s important. Keeps the ball moving around. Keeps guys fresh. Allows us to rotate a little bit.”

With Brebbia, Ponce de Leon, Gant, Giovanny Gallegos, and now closer Carlos Martinez, the Cardinals have a handful of righthanded relievers who can pitch multiple innings. They either have three pitches to offer different looks or two advanced pitches.

To break from a funk, Brebbia said he had to be more assertive with his.

Hence, the “inner Miles.”

In June, Brebbia saw his ERA double from 1.53 to 3.40, and he deadpanned Thursday that the biggest difference for him this week has been “not getting shelled for multiple runs every pitch I throw.” But, he acknowledged it made him hesitant to challenge hitters. He trusted his stuff less. On Wednesday, with innings to absorb and little choice, he followed Mikolas’ lead and “filled up the zone.” He even eased off some on his slider to give it a curveball look, and upset the Mariners’ timing for those six strikeouts.

Ponce de Leon, thrust into Thursday’s game in the fourth inning, had a similar approach, especially when he didn’t have the best feel for his off-speed pitches. Fill the zone. The righthander explained how he “started rocking some fastballs” because if he can get that pitch going “I can survive.”

Ponce de Leon struck out three and did not allow a hit Thursday, shepherding the game all the way to the seventh, when the Cardinals had the lead and could reward him with his first victory. That meant a beer shower after the game.

And some chocolate sauce.

And some hot sauce, which got in his eyes.

“Anything they had in the (clubhouse) kitchen,” Ponce de Leon said. “I think I’ve got a little mayo stuck in my ear still.”

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