CINCINNATI – One way for the Cardinals to get away with removing the heart of their lineup and letting it rest in the dugout Thursday afternoon was to get a heady pitching performance that did not need much from the lineup at all.
Miles Mikolas, his season in full gear after a clunky start, pitched seven shutout innings waiting for the Cardinals’ getaway-day lineup to provide a run, any run, even one run.
Two seemed like a windfall that became essential.
Opposite former Cardinals’ first-round pick, Luke Weaver, Mikolas matched the Reds’ right-hander zero for zero through a brisk game that was scoreless at Great American Ball Park until the eighth inning. With Weaver no longer in the game, the Cardinals broke through and left town after a 2-1 victory against the Reds. The win split the four-game series and sent the Cardinals to the second stop on their Ohio tour, Cleveland.
Cincinnati cleaved the Cardinals’ lead in half in the ninth inning after a one-out double by Spencer Steer created a stir. He scored, and the Reds had the tying run at first base when reliever Giovanny Gallegos cemented the win with a strikeout. Gallegos earned his fifth save.
The Cardinals’ lineup did not have reigning MVP Paul Goldschmidt, MVP finalist Nolan Arenado, or usual No. 5 hitter Willson Contreras in it. All three engines of offense got the day off as the Cardinals near the end of 19 games in 19 days. If he won with a lineup that did not need his everyday players, Hall of Fame manager Tony La Russa would refer to it as “winning a doubleheader” without, thankfully, having to play one.
The Cardinals turned two wild pitches into two runs, helped along by the continuation of a hitting streak.
Lars Nootbaar singled and took second on the first of the wild pitches. That allowed him to easily score the first run of the game on Nolan Gorman’s one-out double. Gorman extended his hitting streak to a career-best 15 games. The Reds walked one batter intentionally and walked another batter unintentionally, but Gorman had already reached third by then when he stole it. That allowed him to score on the inning’s second wild pitch.
The runs came just in time to make a winner of Mikolas (3-1).
For the first time this season, Mikolas authored back-to-back appearances of at least seven innings. He’s righted his season with eight consecutive starts allowing three or fewer runs, and for the first time this month he took a shutout as deep as he took a start. Mikolas struck out five, scattered five hits, and did not trouble his pitch count or any innings with walks.
The Cardinals’ first-round pick in 2014 at No. 27 overall, Weaver has appeared at least a dozen times in every season since he made his big-league debut for the Cardinals in 2016. He just had never faced his first and former club before.
Nor had he pitched a start this well in several seasons.
Weaver, 29, needed 45 pitches to cruise through four innings. He slipped around two doubles by the Cardinals without allowing any hits with a runner in scoring position. The right-hander was both efficient and effective – holding the top four spots in the Cardinals’ getaway-day lineup hitless in 11 at-bats. He had three strikeouts from that group, including two against another Cardinals’ first-round pick, Gorman.
The start was Weaver’s seventh of the season for the Reds, and it comes a season constant change for the former Florida State ace. Traded by the Cardinals to Arizona in the Goldschmidt deal, Weaver spent several seasons in the Diamondbacks rotation before, in 2022, moving almost exclusively to relief. He was traded to Kansas City during the season, and finished the year plucked off waivers by the Mariners. He opted for free agency instead and became a Red within a few months.
Through his first six starts this season, Weaver went 1-2 with a 6.54 ERA, right about where he’s been since 2020 with a 5.74 ERA in his past 185 innings.
He hinted at none of those speedbumps that brought him to Cincinnati in his first start against the Cardinals. In 6 1/3 scoreless innings, he struck out six and allowed a total of five baserunners, three of them on base hits.
Defense keeps shutout rolling for Mikolas
With Nolan Arenado out of the lineup, that did leave the Cardinals without a reigning Gold Glove Award winner at third base.
Brendan Donovan, the winner of Rawlings’ first utility Gold Glove honor, started at third base, and his downright Arenado-like play in the sixth inning kept Cincinnati from eking in a run on a groundball.
The Reds had two singles against Mikolas. Matt McLain’s single found a hole on the right side of the infield when Cincinnati put T. J. Friedl in motion. Friedl got to third base, and that’s where he was when Jonathan India pounded a groundball to third base. Friedl took the inside path to home, forcing Donovan to find another angle for his throw. Once he gloved the grounder Donovan did, firing a strike to catcher Andrew Knizner for the tag – and the out that freed Mikolas from the second threat the Reds mustered.
In the first inning, the right-hander pitched around an error, got a double play, and then went on a stretch where he retired 13 of 15 Reds. The final out of the fifth inning was a sliding catch in left field by Juan Yepez to snare a sinking liner.
Cardinals run into rally-killer
The Cardinals stitched together a single and a hit batter to put some pressure on Weaver for the first time in the seventh inning. The baserunners were enough to nudge the right-hander from the game, but it wasn’t a reliever alone who stopped the Cardinals.
With Knizner at the plate and two runners on, Cincinnati catcher Luke Maile attempted a back pick behind Yepez at first. The Cardinals’ runner was caught leaning and even a bobbled throw did not keep the Reds from getting the out. A brief rundown ensued and Yepez was tagged out in what was scored an attempted steal. The Cardinals went from having two on and one out to getting the final out of the inning on the bases.
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