(BaseballStL) — Time and again, the word grind has come up when Cardinal pitchers talk about starts.
They grind through tough at bats, they grind through poor command and they grind through the season toward October.
Saturday Shelby Miller churned his way through six hard-fought innings, finishing with a season-high 110 pitches.
The righty cruised through two innings, striking out two and not allowing a single hit. He walked three (one intentional), but the damage was contained. Over six outs he came home 36 times, seemingly on his way to another strong outing.
Then in the third, the Padres caught him.
“I don’t know what happened. Nothing was working,” Mike Matheny said of his starter. “His timing was off, everything was off.”
San Diego picked up all four of their hits of fMiller in the frame, sending nine men to the plate and scoring four times. The onslaught erased the four run lead the Cardinals had built, frustrating the righty as he struggled for outs.
“We’re chasing this thing right now. When your team puts up a four spot for you, your job is to go out there and throw up zeroes and pitch with that lead,” he said. “I did the exact opposite of that. I walked guys and gave up hits.”
After a ground out began the inning, the Padres showed life with back-to-back one-out singles from Abraham Almonte and Seth Smith.
A strike out followed, but a third single broke the goose egg and extended the inning. Miller made it worse with a walk to load the bases, and rookie Jake Goebbert had his shot to do some damage.
“You start to lose your mechanics when you throw 38 pitches in one inning. You get tired and they did a good job of putting together good at bats that inning,” he said.
A two-strike triple cleared the sacks and tied the game, putting Miller in serious jeopardy. He intentionally walked Alexi Amarista before getting the pitcher to tap out to end the volley.
Miller would not go quietly, however. After catching his breath and cooling down in the tunnel, the went back out for another run.
“To his credit, it’s the best we’ve seen him gather himself and get back out there for the next two. We needed it,” Matheny said. “We need shim to go a little deeper and I thought he did a real nice job of putting it back together.”
Miller faced the minimum for the next three innings, striking out three and allowing one hit. The Cardinals had someone up in the pen three times, but Miller refused to leave business unfinished. He punctuated his final inning with his fifth K, freezing opposing pitcher Jesse Hahn with a fastball and walking to the dugout with a 5-4 lead.
“That was big. Going out and putting up three zeroes was huge because coming back in from that (third) inning, you could tell I was a little tired. He (Matheny) asked me how I was feeling and I wanted to stay in,” Miller said. “I was trying to battle for the team and go as deep as I could for the bullpen.”
The relief staff needed the help, as the Cards were down to just four arms in the bullpen.
“You saw our pen tonight,” Matheny said, as Kevin Siegrist, Randy Choate and Nick Greenwood all appeared. “Besides [Rosenthal] that’s what we had.”
Saturday was the third outing Miller went six innings or more since returning to the rotation on July 26, and his third time fanning five over that stretch. His ERA rose to 4.25, but he managed to walk off the field with a lead.
“You take the positives and the negatives from it and learn from it,” he said. “I wanted to go back out again to be honest. You don’t want to settle with that.”
Matheny said the team isn’t ruling out reaching down to Memphis for fresh bullpen arms, but with an early Sunday start and a day of rest for the rest of the staff, it would appear unlikely.
The Cardinals would fall 9-5 after a grand slam in the seventh, slipping to three games behind Milwaukee.