With the Cardinals having an unusual early-season workload of nine games in nine days starting Saturday afternoon, manager Oliver Marmol said his bench players would get some starting chances. But, before the game began, Marmol, who said during his pre-game media session that he was not feeling well, was sidelined himself by team medical officials after he was diagnosed with the flu and bench coach Skip Schumaker managed the game.
Marble was tested for COVID-19 and the results were negative.
The first change in the lineup came at designated hitter Saturday when Corey Dickerson, a left-handed batter who has been with seven other teams including Pittsburgh, faced Pirates right-hander Mitch Keller. Albert Pujols, a right-handed batter, had served as the DH on Thursday’s opener in Pujols’ triumphant return home after 10 seasons away.
“(Dickerson) is a professional bat,” said Marmol of the outfielder who is a career .283 batsman. “When you look at that DH spot and being able to have someone on the right side like Albert and then Dickerson on the left side. . . those guys know what it takes. They don’t get themselves out. They understand the rhythm of it, so having a veteran in that spot is key.”
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Dickerson, who has had four 20-plus homer seasons but not lately, was working on re-establishing his power this spring. “We’re excited about Dickerson and some of the stuff he’s done with the lower half (of his body). . . in order to be able to generate a little more juice,” Marmol said.
The rest of the bench–Andrew Knizner, Lars Nootbaar and Edmundo Sosa–played considerably in the spring and Marmol said, “We’ll be able to mix it a little bit. It’s important, early on, for those guys to come out of spring training and get a taste of it.
“This early on, it makes the most sense to make sure that guys are healthy rather than pushing them through nine in a row. With the shortened spring training, not extending guys to the degree that you normally would, we’ll try to be somewhat careful.
“It’s a good balance of keeping our starters fresh and our bench sharp.”
Right-hander Miles Mikolas, who had a solid spring after missing most of the past two seasons with arm ailments, will oppose Pittsburgh right-hander Mitch Keller, who is 2-0 for his career against the Cardinals and no-hit them for six innings a couple of years ago.
Mikolas could be the first Cardinals starting pitcher to help his team win a game against the Pirates at Busch Stadium after five consecutive losses other than when Adam Wainwright, Thursday’s victor, was the starting pitcher.
“(Mikolas) is stronger than ever,” said Marmol. “He was efficient in his starts in the spring and that’s all we expect today.”
Carlson and Vina have something in common
Dylan Carlson was on the basis of two of five time plate appearances as the lead off man Thursday. His bloop double was the first extra-base hit by a Cardinals leadoff hitter to open the season since 2000 when Fernando Vina tripled.
Ironically, Vina and Carlson both grew up in Elk Grove, California and Carlson’s father, also from Elk Grove, was a friend of Vina’s.
“(Vina’s) son went to the high school right across the street from mine,” said Carlson, who said he had had some contact with the elder Vina, who was a base stealer from the leadoff spot besides being an on-base player.
Carlson, who had just two steals in 2021 for the Cardinals, said he could do more of that this year. Having stolen 20 in the minors in 2019, he said, “That’s definitely a part of my game. I really haven’t got to demonstrate it as much so far, but it’s definitely a part of the game I’d like to grow for myself.
“But, with the guys I’ve got behind me (in the lineup), sometimes you’re in scoring position at first base,” Carlson said.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism