Cardinals entrust Flaherty to keep ball rolling vs. Pirates

MLB

Going into the finale of their five-game series Sunday at PNC Park, the St. Louis Cardinals and Pittsburgh Pirates are in very different places.

That was on full display Saturday, starting with the Cardinals (25-24), who have a tenuous hold on second place in the National League Central and are living with every breath as if they are already in postseason mode.

St. Louis was no-hit through six innings before their desperation burst forward with a five-run seventh in a 5-4 win that was their third in a row.

Their situation is why Saturday’s starter, Kwang Hyun Kim, was able to look at the bigger picture, even though he had his streak of four straight starts throwing five or more innings without allowing an earned run halted.

“Overall, (the game) wasn’t good for me, but, fortunately, the team won, and that’s what really matters,” Kim said.

It’s not that the Pirates (15-37) were blase about their bullpen blowing a 4-0 lead and wasting six no-hit innings by Mitch Keller. But bearing down on 40 losses in a 60-game season has their focus in a much different place: next year and beyond.

That means developing young players such as Keller, third baseman Ke’Bryan Hayes (home run and a double Saturday) and reliever Blake Cederlind (perfect inning Saturday in his second career outing).

Which is one reason Keller wasn’t allowed to go beyond six innings even with a live no-hitter. He also was making his second start after coming off the IL.

“Mitch Keller is way too important to the Pittsburgh Pirates” to let him go over his pitch count, manager Derek Shelton said. “I mean, he wasn’t getting through nine. … It’s not worth it.

“Blake’s second outing was really nice. Ke’Bryan continues to do good things. I think it’s a positive sign for Pirates fans moving forward.”

Both teams could be without a starter Sunday.

Cardinals star catcher Yadier Molina, who is seven hits shy of 2,000 for his career, got hit by a pitch from Geoff Hartlieb in the left wrist Saturday after being clipped there by a bat last week. He remained in the game and scored but later left for a pinch-hitter.

St. Louis manager Mike Shildt said X-rays showed no break, but said, “It’s a concern, clearly. He got hit in the same spot.”

Pittsburgh second baseman Kevin Newman left Saturday after being hit in the knee by a 97 mph pitch from Genesis Cabrera. He did not put any weight on that leg as he was helped off the field.

In the series finale, St. Louis right-hander Jack Flaherty (3-2, 5.52 ERA) is scheduled to face Pittsburgh right-hander Joe Musgrove (0-5, 5.74 ERA).

On Tuesday at Milwaukee, Flaherty allowed a career-high nine runs and yielded eight hits in three-plus innings.

That might just be the Brewers, however. “Uncanny how well they read him,” Shildt said. Flaherty has never won in six starts in Milwaukee.

It’s a different story against Pittsburgh. Flaherty is 5-1 with a 1.94 ERA with 47 strikeouts in eight career starts against the Pirates, and his five wins are his most against any opponent.

It’s a different story for Musgrove. Through six starts, with three weeks off while he was on the IL, Musgrove has performed below expectations. On Tuesday, he struck out eight in five innings but allowed four runs and six hits in a loss against Cincinnati — but his teammates have contributed.

Or, to be more exact, they have struggled to contribute. He has pitched 26 2/3 innings, and the Pirates have provided him with just a handful of runs while he has been in the game.

Musgrove has struggled to beat the Cardinals — he is 1-7 with a 6.75 ERA in eight career starts against them.

–Field Level Media

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