Cardinals shut down new-look Pirates lineup to avoid sweep
By trading for veteran sluggers Marlon Byrd and Justin Morneau in the final week of August, the Pirates figured they had found a remedy for their often sluggish offense.
Nobody told Joe Kelly. The right-hander subdued the Pirates’ new-look lineup Sunday, as the St. Louis Cardinals romped to a 7-2 victory.
The Pirates won two of three games in the series and are tied with the Cardinals atop the NL Central. The two teams will clash again this weekend at Busch Stadium in St. Louis — their final three scheduled matchups of the regular season.
Over six innings, Kelly (7-3) gave up four singles, walked two and struck out five. He said his approach against the Pirates was a little different with the new faces in their lineup.
“I had to watch some video on those guys,” Kelly said. “We didn’t really have much on (Morneau) because he came here yesterday. But you still just want to pitch your game. Even if his strength is hitting the fastball away, if that’s my strength I’m just going to keep doing what I can do and pitch my game. But I had to take a little time to look those guys up.”
With Starling Marte still on the disabled list, manager Clint Hurdle chose Neil Walker over Jordy Mercer to bat leadoff. Walker went 1 for 4 in his debut in the top spot.
Byrd and Morneau were in the lineup together for the first time and batted fifth and sixth, respectively. They went a combined 3 for 6 with two walks.
“They have mental and physical toughness, and big-game experience,” Hurdle said. “It makes us deeper, makes us better. We’ve got to go play now.”
Byrd’s single up the middle in the sixth inning drove in the Pirates’ first run. He doubled and scored in the ninth.
“I’m glad to be part of a winning team,” Byrd said. “I want to do everything I can to help.”
A sellout crowd of 37,912 came to PNC Park wanting to witness a series sweep, but those hopes were quickly crushed. Pirates starter Kris Johnson yielded five runs in two-plus innings.
It took Johnson 20 minutes to get through the top of the first. The lefty threw 37 pitches —19 balls, 18 strikes — and allowed three runs on three hits, two walks and two wild pitches.
Allen Craig and Yadier Molina began the third with back-to-back singles. David Freese doubled to the North Side Notch, which gave the Cardinals a 5-0 lead and knocked Johnson out of the game.
“His control wasn’t on point and that hurt us,” catcher John Buck said. “We didn’t do ourselves any favors by falling behind in counts. Then, he tried to force a couple pitches.”
Johnson is a 28-year-old journeyman who two years ago pitched for the Kansas City T-Bones of the independent American Association to reignite his career. In his big league debut Aug. 18, Johnson tossed six innings of relief and was the loser in a 4-2, 16-inning defeat against the Arizona Diamondbacks.
“There was a little more nerves today because of the anticipation of starting,” Johnson said. “These are the kind of situations you want to be put in; I just didn’t take advantage of it. I worked all my life to get here and fell short.”
Lefty Jeff Locke originally was slated to start Sunday, but he was temporarily demoted to Double-A Altoona for a breather amid a second-half skid. The Pirates called up Johnson from Triple-A Indianapolis to make the spot start in part because the Cardinals can be vulnerable against left-handers.
That the Pirates would turn to an untested rookie instead of Locke in a key game against a top NL Central foe underscores their concern about the depth of Locke’s slump.
How wide is the gulf between Triple-A and the majors? This season, Johnson leads the International League with a 2.39 ERA and ranks seventh with 10 wins. In two outings with the Pirates, he is 0-2 with a 7.88 ERA.