Luke Weaver stepped out of his bullpen warm-ups with swagger, focus and determination. That mindset translated on the mound as Weaver worked his toward solidifying a spot in the starting rotation.
Although the Cardinals fell to the surging Phillies 6-2, Weaver’s seven-inning performance was not to blame.
Weaver knew this was a crucial start from the get-go. With Adam Wainwright headed to the 60-day disabled list, Mike Matheny has to decide which young arm will be his replacement.
The two most likely candidates? Weaver and Jack Flaherty. While the two are promising prospects, there isn’t enough room for the both of them.
The Cardinals’ top prospect, starting pitcher Alex Reyes, was in good spirits after a bullpen session prior to Thursday’s game as he works toward a return from Tommy John surgery. Reyes will join the starting rotation at the end of the month, giving the Cardinals four rotation spots accounted for. (Reyes, Martinez, Michael Wacha, Miles Mikolas)
With that being said, this was an important game for Weaver. He never looked nervous, dominating from start to finish.
“I took a whole lot out of this outing,” Weaver said. “This was one of the best ones I’ve thrown so far, so I’m going to keep going with it.”
The 24-year-old let up one run on four hits in seven innings of work, striking out six Phillies in the process. He stressed that commanding his fastball and forcing ground balls were his keys to success in Thursday’s game.
Weaver’s only blemish on the night was a Carlos Santana home run to lead off the fifth inning.
“I don’t even know if it was that bad of a pitch,” Matheny said. “That’s the one that stands out that was hit hard, it’s a shame. That was a fantastic start. It was exactly what we needed.”
Weaver’s response after Santana’s home run was that of a seasoned veteran. He recorded his first strikeout of the day on the next batter and added a couple more, striking out the side. He ended his day with a perfect sixth inning and worked out of a jam in the seventh.
The rest of the Cardinals’ left their teammate’s stellar performance out to dry, as the bats couldn’t capitalize with runners in scoring position. On top of that, the bullpen continued to struggle.
A typically reliable Jordan Hicks (0.92 ERA in 19.2 IP before Thursday’s game) gave up three runs without recording an out in the eighth inning. Pedro Florimon added flame to the fire, sending a John Brebbia slider over the wall and into the bullpen to extend the Phillies’ lead to 6-2 in the ninth inning.
Paul DeJong and Marcell Ozuna stepped into the batters box in the final frame with a chance to tie the game with a grand slam. The few remaining fans were out of their seats cheering on the two, but DeJong lined out to the shortstop and Ozuna grounded out to end the ballgame.
Michael Wacha will try to even the series against the Phillies’ Jake Arrieta at 7:15 p.m. Friday at Busch Stadium.
Jack Parodi covers the St. Louis Cardinals and you can find him on Twitter @jack_parodi