Pitchers who finished strong last season will make the Opening Day starts when the St. Louis Cardinals host the Pittsburgh Pirates on Friday.
Jack Flaherty (11-8, 2.75 ERA in 2019) was the Cardinals’ clear choice to launch the season at Busch Stadium. He became the staff ace last season while going 7-2 with a 0.91 ERA in 15 second-half outings.
“There’s like this calmness to him and then under the surface you see an urgency to be great,” Cardinals pitcher Miles Mikolas told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “At first, he just wanted to be the best of himself. Now he’s realized when he’s at his best — well, he’s probably one of the best in the league, if not the best pitcher in the league.
“You see that look in his face, and he may want it more than everybody else. That’s one reason he’s going to get it.”
With pitchers Chris Archer and Jameson Taillon sidelined by season-ending injuries, Joe Musgrove (11-12, 4.44 ERA last season) got the opening nod from new Pirates manager Derek Shelton.
“There’s only 30 guys in the world that get to do that every year, and to be one of them is pretty cool,” Musgrove said. “It’s something that every pitcher wants to experience at least once in their career, and being able to get it going into my fourth year, I hope I can carry it on through the rest of my career.”
Musgrove made some mechanical adjustments with his delivery late last season. He went 3-0 with a 2.89 ERA and 32 strikeouts in his last five starts.
“The stuff got better,” Pirates pitching coach Oscar Marin said. “He felt better physically. And that’s something that he wanted to continue throughout the offseason, and he did.”
Flaherty was 1-0 with a 0.60 ERA and 18 strikeouts in 15 innings against the Pirates last season. He is 4-1 with a 1.84 ERA in seven career starts against them.
Pittsburgh’s Kevin Newman (2-for-6, double, RBI) and Josh Bell (3-for-12, two doubles, a homer, two runs and two RBIs) have enjoyed some career success against Flaherty.
Musgrove is looking to reverse his fortunes against the Cardinals. He went 0-4 with a 10.00 ERA against them last season, and his career numbers (1-6, 7.05 ERA in seven starts) aren’t much better.
St. Louis’ Paul Goldschmidt (6-for-12, a homer, six walks, five runs, three RBIs, 1.500 on-base-plus-slugging percentage), Dexter Fowler (6-for-13, two doubles, triple, homer, three walks, four runs, six RBIs, 1.545 OPS) and Yadier Molina (3-for-5, two doubles, three runs, RBI) have hit Musgrove hard.
The Pirates are opening the season without outfielder Gregory Polanco, closer Keone Kela and third baseman Ke’Bryan Hayes. Each tested positive for COVID-19. Infielder Kevin Kramer (hip surgery) and catcher Luke Maile (broken finger) are out for the season.
Kyle Crick could close games in Kela’s absence.
The Cardinals are missing utility player Brad Miller (sore heel), late-inning reliever Giovanny Gallegos (delayed camp arrival), closer Jordan Hicks (medical opt-out) and pitchers Genesis Cabrera and Alex Reyes, who missed much of summer camp after positive COVID-19 tests.
Newcomer Kwang Hyun Kim will open the season as the Cardinals’ closer. He struck out the side in the ninth inning of a 6-3 exhibition victory over the Kansas City Royals on Wednesday.
“Good tempo, multiple pitches for strikes, lefties, righties,” Cardinals manager Mike Shildt said. “That’s the reason he’s in that spot. He’s a veteran guy with good presence. Went out with a lot of different pitches with good movement.”
–Field Level Media