By Joe Strauss, St. Louis Post-Dispatch –
SAN FRANCISCO — After their manager used the same lineup for each game of the division series, the Cardinals will employ the same roster in the National League championship series that worked against the Washington Nationals. The rotation, however, is a different matter.
Because they were pushed to a fifth game, manager Mike Matheny will use Lance Lynn in Sunday night’s series opener against the San Francisco Giants and hold Adam Wainwright for only one appearance — Game 4.
Lynn, who replaces the injured Jaime Garcia (shoulder) in the rotation, precedes Chris Carpenter, Kyle Lohse and Wainwright. General manager John Mozeliak presaged the move Thursday when he insisted that Wainwright would not work on short rest during this postseason. The club could have shifted Wainwright to Wednesday’s Game 3 and assigned Lohse Game 4, but recent performance coupled with Wainwright’s advancing pitching load argued against such a switch.
Wainwright surrendered six runs on seven hits (six for extra bases) in 2 1/3 innings Friday night at Nationals Park. Though Wainwright struck out 15 in two division series starts, his fastball looked increasingly vulnerable. He surrendered 13 hits and seven earned runs in eight innings while climbing above 200 innings in his first season since missing 2011 because of elbow ligament replacement.
“I’d be lying if I stood here saying that I’m the same pitcher now as I have been in the past or I will be in the future,” Wainwright said Saturday afternoon.
“There are times when the life on my fastball hasn’t been the same when it was at its peak. There have also been times when it was,” Wainwright said. “It’s a good thing I have four pitches because there are times when some of my pitches are nonexistent.”
Wainwright said he felt his velocity and pitch movement were fine but that he paid for too often falling behind in counts, especially Friday, when he allowed extra-base hits to thes first three hitters.
“I still feel confident in my ability. I still feel confident in my stuff. But right now I don’t have the ability to reach back for a 95 mile-per-hour fastball like I could before,” he said.
Mozeliak, for one, said he was not disappointed to see Wainwright limited to one start this series. Though the club has given no indication of curtailing Wainwright’s innings, Mozeliak is mindful of the toll created by postseason stress.
“We’re mindful of where he is (regarding innings) and don’t see this as necessarily a bad thing,” Mozeliak said. “It puts him in a good position going forward.”
Righthander Jake Westbrook rejoined the club in San Francisco after traveling to his Georgia home to be with his wife when she delivered the couple’s fourth child. Westbrook’s return was to offer more than moral support as he threw a full bullpen session Saturday that may hint at a return to the roster should the Cardinals advance to the World Series.
Westbrook has not appeared in a game since Sept. 8 because of an oblique strain that grabbed again when he attempted a side session during the season’s final week. With Garcia sidelined for the remainder of the postseason, Westbrook’s availability would represent a safety net given a health issue involving another starter.
Mozeliak referred to it as “good insurance.”
Discouraged by his late-season setback, Westbrook appeared more optimistic following Saturday’s session. Asked about his hope to pitch in October, he said, “That’s the whole point of doing what I just did. I feel like I had to show them something.”
Second baseman Daniel Descalso resembled a roster afterthought during the 2011 postseason. He has been a constant in Matheny’s lineup this month after taking control of the position in mid-September.
The UC-Davis alumnus and San Francisco resident contributed two huge hits in Friday night’s comeback win. He punished an eighth-inning home run to pull the Cardinals within 6-5 then, following a Nationals run against Jason Motte in the bottom of the frame, resurfaced to line a first-pitch, game-tying, two-run single past shortstop Ian Desmond. Descalso eventually scored the Cardinals’ final run on shortstop Pete Kozma’s single.
“He’s just a ballplayer,” Matheny said. “He’s gritty. He’s hard-nosed. He’s smart. He plays instinctively. He’s always been able to play very good defense. We’ve moved him all over and really ran him through the wringer this season.”
Descalso was on the Cardinals’ roster for all three postseason rounds last year but took only nine at-bats in the team’s 18 games. Descalso contributed six hits worth 13 total bases, scored a team-most seven runs and drove in a team-most six during the division series. The breakout seemingly contradicted a season in which Descalso hit .227 and produced 26 RBIs in 374 at-bats.
“He really did figure out how to take advantage of the opportunity when that opportunity presented itself, especially when (shortstop Rafael) Furcal went down,” Matheny said. “We needed somebody to take control of second base and Daniel Descalso did that. And he’s been huge for us down the stretch here. Both guys in the middle of our infield have.”
Descalso hit only .118 with runners in scoring position this year. He also labored early in the season against high fastballs. The matter consumed him and his swing mechanics eventually deteriorated. He recovered in time to score 10 runs and produce nine RBIs in September along with a .247 average.
“I knew as well as anybody that I hadn’t produced in those spots. But I worked hard to improve the quality of my at-bats over the course of the year. I think that showed up in the last month or so,” said Descalso.