December 7, 2022

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Marmol shoulders burden of loss after Mikolas fades late

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ST. LOUIS — Cardinals manager Oliver Marmol admirably fell onto the proverbial sword for the way Saturday’s 2-0 loss to the D-backs at Busch Stadium played out, but in his defense, Miles Mikolas gave no indication whatsoever that he would blink by the time the eighth inning rolled around.

If anything, Mikolas looked to be getting stronger as the game wore on. He struck out four straight batters at one point, retired 14 of 15 and pushed his scoreless innings streak to 19 prior to the turning point of the game. But what a turning point it was. Ketel Marte and Nick Ahmed hit solo home runs in the eighth inning of a scoreless game, and Arizona turned Mikolas into the hard-luck loser.

“I’ve just got to try and forget about that last inning,” said Mikolas, who recorded MLB’s longest active scoreless streak before surrendering the two late home runs. “I thought I made one OK pitch [to Marte], but the pitch to Ahmed was a mistake. He put a good swing on it and got it up in the air. I’m just going to focus on what I did well and remember that sometimes you can hit spots and guys will just put good swings on the ball.”

Mikolas was forced to search for positives after pitching nearly flawlessly in a second straight outing only to see the Cardinals come away with a loss. On Monday he matched zeros with Mets ace Max Scherzer over seven scoreless innings, but St. Louis surrendered five runs in the ninth inning with two men out. On Saturday, Mikolas threw first-pitch strikes to 11 of the first 16 hitters, struck out seven and didn’t allow a runner to reach second base until the sixth inning.

Sitting at 91 pitches, Mikolas went back out to pitch the eighth inning — even though left-hander Génesis Cabrera and righty Ryan Helsley were warmed up and ready. On the third pitch of the inning, Marte hit a 75.3 mph curveball just beyond the 375-foot sign and into the Cardinals’ bullpen. Two batters later, Ahmed went the other way on a 93.4 mph fastball to make it 2-0.

Marmol, the rookie skipper, second-guessed himself after the game, saying that he should have turned the game over to Helsley, one of St. Louis’ most dominant relievers all season.

“Miles did his job, and I didn’t do mine,” Marmol fumed. “He was really good through seven and he was at 91 pitches. We’ve got a pretty damn good bullpen, and we should have gone to it.”

The bigger issue now for the Cardinals is their sporadic offense. After putting up a combined 18 runs on 30 hits on Wednesday and Thursday, they mustered just two runs over the past two days. One reason for Saturday’s light output was the absence of likely National League Player of the Month Nolan Arenado, who was serving a suspension that was trimmed to one game by MLB earlier in the day upon appeal. Arenado, one of the league’s most productive hitters through the first month, was handed the suspension for his role in Wednesday’s bench-clearing fracas with the Mets.

On Saturday the Cardinals had little luck against Arizona’s Merrill Kelly, who allowed only two hits over seven innings. St. Louis stranded runners in scoring position in the second, sixth and seventh. In the ninth, struggling lefty Corey Dickerson lifted a low fastball deep to right that briefly looked like it might tie the score, but it was caught by Jordan Luplow at the wall.

“It felt pretty good, and I hit it decent — toward the end of the bat — but I didn’t get full extension through it,” Dickerson said.

By mixing speeds, hitting his spots and staying ahead in counts, Mikolas feels as good and in control as he has since 2018, when he was an 18-game winner for the Cardinals. In between, he won just 11 games and dealt with a series of arm injuries. Now, even after surrendering the late home runs on Saturday, Mikolas’ ERA sits at a team-best 1.52.

“I’d like my fastball to tick up a little, but who wouldn’t?” the 6-foot-4, 230-lb. Mikolas said. “I feel like my command is in a really good spot, my delivery is in a good place, and if I continue doing what I’m doing, I see no reason why I can’t win a whole bunch of ballgames for us this year.”

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