Fri Sep 18 1:28am ET
If it's Friday, it must be a doubleheader day for the St. Louis Cardinals.
Of course, it probably feels like that every day of the week for the Cardinals, who this time have two games against the Pirates in Pittsburgh.
St. Louis (22-24) is trying to make the playoffs while navigating a heavy workload, thanks to an outbreak of COVID-19 early this season that forced several postponements.
The Cardinals will be playing their sixth doubleheader in 14 days. Even though those games are shortened to seven innings, it puts a strain on the pitching staff. And the St. Louis pitching staff was further stressed on Thursday.
"The mental challenges are as difficult as the physical challenges," Cardinals pitching coach Mike Maddux said Thursday. "We know it's going to be tough to go out there and play as many innings as we're playing in a short time. You've really got to pat them on the back because nobody's complaining. We're keeping our focus forward, and everybody is pushing through it."
And that was earlier in the day, before starter Dakota Hudson left after two innings in the 5-1 loss to the Pirates on Thursday, owing to tightness in his pitching elbow. That relegated the game to a bullpen outing for the Cardinals, who used five pitchers on the eve of a doubleheader.
Conversely, Pittsburgh left-hander Steven Brault did the Pirates' bullpen a big favor. In the opener of the five-game series, Brault pitched his first career complete game as the Bucs (15-34) ended an eight-game losing streak.
In the first game Friday, St. Louis right-hander Carlos Martinez (0-2, 10.32 ERA) is scheduled to face Pittsburgh right-hander Trevor Williams (1-7, 6.35).
In the second game, St. Louis right-hander Daniel Ponce de Leon (0-3, 6.23) is set to face Pittsburgh right-hander Chad Kuhl (1-2, 5.50).
Martinez is 5-4 with a 3.49 ERA in 12 career starts against Pittsburgh and 6-6 overall in 15 appearances, but he has been struggling lately. Sunday, he struck out eight but lasted only four innings in a no-decision against the Cincinnati Reds. In that one, he gave up three runs and six hits, which was actually an improved outing. In his previous two starts, both losses, he went 3 2/3 in each and gave up a combined 10 runs and 14 hits.
Ponce de Leon will be pitching on three days' rest after he gave up two runs and four hits, with nine strikeouts, in six innings Monday against Milwaukee. He is 0-1 with a 4.85 ERA in five career games, three of them starts, against the Pirates.
Williams has lost four consecutive decisions. Saturday, he gave up six runs and 10 hits in five innings at Kansas City. He has given up 31 hits and nine homers with a 9.43 ERA over his past four starts, totaling 21 innings. All four of those games were Pittsburgh losses, and the Pirates are 1-8 in his starts.
"I have to stop giving up homers. It's really that simple," Williams said. "It just compounds. You give up a base hit, whether it's hit hard or hit soft, and (a homer) compounds. Those are the ones that hurt you."
Williams is 4-5 with a 5.32 ERA in 15 career games (12 starts) against St. Louis.
Kuhl has not had a smooth return after missing 2019 following Tommy John surgery. In his most recent outing, Sunday at Kansas City, he got knocked around for nine runs on four hits and six walks, although he struck out five in his 2 1/3 innings.
Kuhl revealed he was dealing with a cuticle abrasion on his right index finger that on Sunday left him with "no fastball command." He is 1-2 with a 3.51 ERA in eight career starts against the Cardinals.
--Field Level Media