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Friday, May 9, 2008

Cards not fazed by lost lead

DENVER -- It's been feast or famine for Cardinals relievers in Colorado, with the bullpen bailing out Joel Pineiro with six innings of one-run ball Monday, and starters Braden Looper and Adam Wainwright combining to throw 16 1/3 innings the next two nights, giving the 'pen some much-needed down time.

So when manager Tony La Russa pulled Wainright after seven shutout innings Wednesday, there was no second-guessing the manager's decision, even after his power trio of Kyle McClellan, Randy Flores and Jason Isringhausen combined to allow four runs on four hits and two walks in the eighth, handing Colorado its first win of the four-game series.

"He made the right decision," Wainwright said, noting the extra concern pitching in Denver's mile-high altitude can create for a pitcher. "It's tough for a starter to rebound after pitching up here in this atmosphere, we're not used to it. You have to make sure you hydrate like crazy just to get back and heal. I think it's important not to over work here. Braden did a great job saving our bullpen [Tuesday] night, so we had some guys down there that are extremely talented. We just got some bad breaks."

Those bad breaks are definitely an anomaly this season, as the Cardinals relievers lead the Majors with 31 holds. Setup man Ryan Franklin's 11 holds are tied with Arizona's Chad Qualls for baseball's best, and he and Flores have posted respective scoreless streaks of 7 2/3 and 7 1/3 innings, with each streak snapped in Colorado.

Furthermore, McClellan entered Wednesday leading all rookie pitchers with a 2.08 ERA, while ranking second in opponents' batting average against at .231 and sixth in strikeouts with 15.

And although Isringhausen is singled out in the box score with his fourth blown save, he still leads the league with 11 saves, maintaining his manager's confidence when the game is on the line. He had no misgivings about his outing, yielding a run on two hits and a walk while facing four batters in one-third of an inning.

"I'm not unhappy with the way I threw, I'm just unhappy with the results," Isringhausen said. "I come in there and just need to get an out. I got the ground ball I wanted, he just hit it in the hole. I'll throw that pitch every time and take my chances."

Rest assured, La Russa will continue to take his chances with a bullpen that has anchored the club as its last defense, posting an 18-1 record when leading after eight innings.

Pitching matchup
STL: RHP Kyle Lohse (3-1, 3.79 ERA)
Lohse had his worst start of the season in his last outing on Saturday, when the Cubs tagged him for eight earned runs on nine hits in six innings. He walked two batters and did not strike out anyone. The right-hander's ERA jumped from 2.36 after his first six starts to 3.79, which ranks third among the Cardinals' five starters. On the season, Lohse has struck out 14 and walked 10 in 40 1/3 innings of work. He's allowed 41 hits and opponents are batting .315 against him.

COL: LHP Jorge De La Rosa (0-1, 20.25 ERA)
De La Rosa had a rough outing in his season debut Saturday against the Dodgers, equaling a career high with nine runs on nine hits and three walks in four-plus innings. He got some bad breaks as he gave up six runs in the first two innings, but he struggled with fastball command, and his slider and curve were ineffective, leaving only his changeup as a go-to pitch. He retired nine of 10 batters after the first six runs, but he couldn't record an out in the fifth inning, departing after a three-run homer on a hanging slider.

Albert Pujols' seventh-inning single Wednesday extended his season-opening streak to 35 games reaching base safely. Though clear records for on-base streaks are hard to document, Ted Williams reached safely in 65 games to open the 1948 season. ... Ryan Ludwick has a seven-game hitting streak, hitting .550 (11-for-20) in that span. He is 7-for-9 (.778) against the Rockies this week, collecting his fifth home run to leadoff the fifth. ... After collecting 11 extra-base hits in the first two games of the series, the Cardinals were held to one on Wednesday, the Ludwick solo homer. ... Rick Ankiel leads the Majors with seven game-winning RBIs, the most recent one coming Tuesday in Colorado. ... Wainwright's 0-for-3 night at the plate ended a stretch of three straight games with the Cardinals pitchers hitting safely, going 4-for-7 (.571) with three RBIs from Sunday to Tuesday.

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