MINNEAPOLIS — As much as the Cardinals pitching has been rattled on their first road trip by two starters that didn’t see the end of the fourth and the loss of starter Miles Mikolas for the season, the team continues to carry their biggest baggage from their recent years.
The amount of runs they must prevent only gets harder the fewer they score, and when they don’t score at all – there isn’t a defense that win games with that.
After a spark of what they want to be as a lineup over the weekend, the Cardinals quietly left Minnesota on Wednesday night having been shutout, 3-0, and swept at Target Field. Twins starter Rich Hill and a committee of relievers kept the Cardinals from reaching second base all evening. Only one of the runners that reached base was not involved in an out. Paul Goldschmidt was just stranded on first – in the first inning.
Otherwise, a single in the second was erased by a forceout at second, and a single in the eighth was part of a deflating double play.
The injuries to the pitching staff have the Cardinals scanning their roster for possibilities. The ineffectiveness of the offense has made the other options on the roster standout all the more. The Cardinals seek a jolt of production from the outfield, and have since this past season. Lane Thomas got a start over the weekend there and has been with the club all season, and looming on the horizon is prospect Dylan Carlson, who has been playing in Springfield, Mo., at the team’s alternate-site camp.
Mikolas was originally scheduled to start Wednesday’s series finale in Minnesota, but instead he’ll soon have season-ending surgery on his flexor tendon. Into the opening the Cardinals threw Daniel Ponce de Leon, who had been targeted as the alternate starter since this past Saturday. Ponce de Leon needed 31 pitches to get through the first inning and saw a leadoff walk become a 1-0 lead for the Twins. He steadied himself around eight strikeouts, an ability to elevated, and an improving feel for his curveball. Josh Donaldson, the former MVP, saw six pitches from Ponce de Leon.
He struck out twice.
A 94-mph fastball on the inner edge of the plate was clobbered by Eddie Rosario for a home run in the fourth inning and a hit batter became the third run and final run of the game, all of them off Ponce de Leon (0-1).
Against familiar lefty Hill, Cardinals give lineup a right twist, start Ravelo at DH
As the Cardinals started to realize the likelihood of trading Jose Martinez to Tampa Bay in a deal that centered, for them, around lefty prospect Matthew Liberatore, they had to quickly pull back on another deal they were close to finalizing.
The Cardinals had agreed with a team in the KBO for Rangel Ravelo. The corner infielder would have a chance to make some additional money abroad, and he would have a surefire, guaranteed role.
With Martinez on the move, the Cardinals now had that for him.
They eased back on the deal with the team from the KBO, talked to Ravelo about sticking with them, and soon after completed the deal with the Rays. They got the desired lefty, and in exchange they also made something of a pledge to Ravelo -- that he would have a place in the majors this season. The added spot on the roster and his ability to pinch hit seemed like a good fit, and with Martinez on the way to the American League the Cardinals had the need of a righthanded pinch-hitter.
Or, a deterrent for lefthanded pitchers.
They're putting that to use Wednesday.
In the finale of a two-day, two-game visit to Target Field, Ravelo will start at designated hitter and give the Cardinals eight consecutive righthanded hitters in the lineup. The reason? Rick Hill.
The veteran lefty and curveball aficionado will be making his Twins debut, and his team will be wearing the baby blue uniforms for the first time in 2020.
This is the first game of the season that does not feature Matt Carpenter at DH, and the Cardinals also reorganized where the hitters are batting as a result. Tyler O'Neill, who tagged a two-run homer Tuesday at Target Field, moves up to No. 5, and switch-hitters Tommy Edman and Dexter Fowler bat second and seventh, respectively. Ravelo hits eighth.
In the majors this past season, Ravelo had only seven plate appearances against lefties, and he had a single.
He also only struck out once.
Like Martinez, he had success in the minors that hint at how comfortable he is against lefties. At Class AAA in 2019, he had 79 at-bats against lefthanded pitching and hit .342/.402/.633 for a 1.035 OPS. He had 12 extra-base hits, including five home runs. He struck out only 15 times.
The Cardinals turn to Daniel Ponce de Leon for the spot start in place of Miles Mikolas. There are some other machinations of the rotation coming as the Cardinals adjust and possibly utilize their off days. Dakota Hudson is throwing a bullpen session Wednesday at Target Field and that would make him available to start Saturday against Milwaukee. The Cardinals have made no announcements about a change in the rotation plans.
They did call it "day to day" on Tuesday due to Mikolas' season-ending injury. Jack Flaherty is inked in to start Friday's game at Milwaukee, the Brewers' home opener.
Here is the Cardinals lineup for Wednesday in the Twin Cities:
1. Kolten Wong, 2B
2. Tommy Edman, 3B
3. Paul Goldschmidt, 1B
4. Paul DeJong, SS
5. Tyler O'Neill, LF
6. Yadier Molina, C
7. Dexter Fowler, RF
8. Rangel Ravelo, DH
9. Harrison Bader, CF
1. Luis Arraez, 2B
2. Josh Donaldson, 3B
3. Jorge Polanco, SS
4. Nelson Cruz, DH
5. Eddie Rosario, LF
6. Miguel Sano, 1B
7. Jake Cave, CF
8. Marwin Gonzalez, RF
9. Alex Avila, C
Starting pitcher: Rich Hill
Check back; this story will be updated.