Mikolas Stifles Marlins As Cardinals Avoid Sweep

Back-to-back singles in the top of the first suggested it may be yet another long day for the Cardinals against the Marlins. Miles Mikolas had different plans.

“I felt pretty good the first inning. I left some curveballs a little bit up and I made that adjustment to that last hitter, so I knew that I was going to be able to make my adjustments pretty well and I was pretty happy with how I felt.

Mikolas struck out J.T. Riddle on three pitches to end the inning unscathed and got into a groove from then on.

The next Marlin baserunner came by the way of a dropped ball in the outfield by Dexter Fowler with an out in the sixth inning — Mikolas set down 14 straight batters up until that point.

Although the run came in to score on a two-out Justin Bour double to left-centerfield, it didn’t count against Mikolas’ ERA because of Fowler’s error.

Mikolas set down the final four batters to end his outing with a seven inning, five strikeout performance in the Cardnals 4-1 victory Thursday afternoon.

“It’s huge for our club to know when he’s right, he’ll be out there late in the game,” manager Mike Matheny said. “I thought he did a really great job today of establishing that breaking ball. That made the fastball, cutter [and] slider better. He and Francisco [Peña] were on the same page and it was just a really well-executed game-plan.”

What may be under-looked, but still impressive is he didn’t surrender an unintentional walk — something he’s been doing better than almost every pitcher in baseball this year.

He’s let up eight walks on the season, both intentional and unintentional. He’s one of three pitchers in the National League to register less walks than games pitched this year and is the only pitcher in baseball with at least 10 games started and less than 10 walks allowed.

Mikolas’ dominance in his comeback season to the Majors comes from what he learned in his time playing in Japan. A 100-plus mile-per-hour hurler that struggled to find control with the Padres and Rangers, he toned it down in Japan and it’s translated to MLB this year.

He said the difference in his game now compared to his previous MLB stint is he now throws more strikes, and more quality ones at that.

Mikolas’ control of the strike zone has him in the All-Star Game conversation, as he sports a 7-1 record and 2.27 ERA thus far.

“He’s putting together a pretty special season that not many knew was coming, including us,” Matheny said.

Another Cardinal in contention to make the first All-Star Game of his career is surprise standout first baseman Jose Martínez. His two-run homer to left field in the first inning was enough to back Mikolas’ performance.

Martínez added a line drive single in the sixth inning for his second straight game with multiple hits and RBI. While his team struggled in a three-game series with Miami, he tore the cover off the ball, going 7-13 (.538) with four RBI and a long-ball.

He’s gone three straight games with at least two hits and currently holds a five-game hit streak.

A nice story came from the opposition, as Mater Dei High School (Breese, IL) alumnus Trevor Richards got called up Wednesday and was on the mound to start against his childhood team in a city he grew up close to.

“As a kid, we went to a lot of Cardinal games, and I was a Cardinals fan growing up, so it’s really cool to play here,” Richards said. “I was very excited to be able to come back to St. Louis.”

A fairly large group of people behind the Marlins dugout sported various Richards Marlins jerseys.

“I just left tickets for my family, but there were a lot of people,” Richards said. “I think they took some busses over from our hometown.”

The 25-year-old rookie had a solid start, going five innings with four strikeouts and three earned runs. His offense couldn’t back him and he’ll wait until his next scheduled start to earn his first Major League win.

Richards received a standing ovation from his fan club and Cardinals fans alike as he exited in the sixth inning Wednesday.

“When I got taken out of the game, the crowd… that was pretty cool,” Richards said. “Quite the experience there.”

The Cardinals travel to Cincinnati for a three-game series against the Reds (22-41). Luke Weaver (3-5, 4.12 ERA) takes the bump against Matt Harvey (1-4, 5.79 ERA) in the series opener at 7:15 p.m. Friday at Great American Ballpark.

Jack Parodi covers the St. Louis Cardinals and you can find him on Twitter @jack_parodi