Cardinals face Reds still looking for traction

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The St. Louis Cardinals will continue scraping off the rust when they play host the Cincinnati Reds on Sunday.

The Cardinals have gone 6-5 since returning from their 17-day COVID-19 shutdown.

“It’s just a matter of, again, going out there and play freely, and relax,” outfielder Harrison Bader said. “There are a lot of moving parts with a short season, with all the things you have to deal with and all the protocols you have to follow. We’re finally outside of that window and can breathe again.”

But their pitchers are still working to build their arm strength, and their hitters are still finding their timing.

“The fact of the matter is we’ve got to figure out a way to get it done,” Cardinals manager Mike Shildt said. “I feel like we are. We are. It requires a tough mentality, and this is a group that clearly has it. It’s just the nature of what we’re dealing with.”

The Cardinals will start Daniel Ponce de Leon (0-2, 6.14 ERA) to conclude their four-game series with the Reds at Busch Stadium. He struck out seven batters in 3 1/3 innings in his last start. But he allowed two runs on three hits and three walks during the 6-3 loss Tuesday to the Chicago Cubs.

“It’s really just about controlling counts and throwing quality strikes,” Shildt said of Ponce de Leon. “If he does that, he’ll go deep into games. Really just about mixing his pitches, hitting with all his pitches, and he’ll be just fine. He’ll be able to go deeper into games and turn that corner and be that next-level starter that we think he’s capable of being.”

Ponce de Leon lost his one start against the Reds last season, allowing four runs (three earned) in four innings. He is 0-2 with a 3.77 ERA in three career starts against them.

Reds hitters Phillip Ervin (3-for-4, double, RBI) and Joey Votto (two doubles in six at bats) have hit well against Ponce de Leon in the past.

The Reds will start Tyler Mahle (0-0, 3.38 ERA), who came out of the bullpen in his previous outing and allowed three runs in 3 1/3 innings in a 5-4 loss to the Kansas City Royals on Aug. 12. He struck out six batters in that appearance.

He was 0-1, 5.40 ERA in three starts against the Cardinals last season and he is 1-2 with a 5.00 in five career starts against them. Yadier Molina (5-for-10, homer, three RBIs) and Paul Goldschmidt (3-for-7, RBI) have hit well against him.

On the other hand, Matt Carpenter (1-for-10), Kolten Wong (1-for-7), Dexter Fowler (1-for-6) and Tommy Edman (1-for-6) have all struggled against Mahle.

The Reds made a roster move before Saturday’s game, adding outfielder Mark Payton and dispatching outfielder Josh VanMeter to their alternate training site. Payton pinch-hit Saturday in his big league debut and grounded out.

“Mark is going to play,” Reds manager David Bell said. “He’s a solid defender. He’s going to get some starts in left field. Jesse (Winker) will continue to get starts in left field but also DH some. From that standpoint, it’s kind of a 1-for-1 deal for now with Mark replacing Josh.”

–Field Level Media

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