By Derrick Gold/St. Louis Post-Dispatch (MCT)
MILWAUKEE _ Before arriving at spring training, Cardinals manager Mike Matheny took stock of the pitchers he had in the bullpen and decided to groom green but talented righthander Lance Lynn for a late-inning role, perhaps as the team’s hard-throwing setup man.
An injury to Chris Carpenter rewrote that plan and relocated Lynn to the rotation. Sunday, he made his debut and still met Matheny’s initial expectations.
Lynn, a former Ole Miss standout, is capable of providing needed relief.
As a stand-in for Carpenter, Lynn rifled through the Milwaukee Brewers for eight strikeouts and hoisted the Cardinals to a 9-3 victory at Miller Park. Lynn pitched 62/3 innings and allowed two hits as he tamed the Brewers with a mixture of controlled heat_five of the strikeouts came on pitches 94 mph or faster_and cool poise. After Corey Hart’s solo homer, the only run he allowed, Lynn struck out the next four batters he faced, two on called third strikes.
“I don’t think you’re overstating the importance of having somebody come in and “¦ do what he did,” Matheny said. “When the game deals what it deals you, you hope somebody steps up. An outing like this kind of opens the eyes to really what we have in him.”
The Cardinals backed Lynn (1-0) and won their first series against division rival Milwaukee with an encore of unrelenting offense. For the third time in four games, the Cardinals had at least 13 hits. Three Cardinals had three hits apiece, starting with leadoff hitter Rafael Furcal’s third three-hit performance in four games this season. Furcal’s 10 hits are as many in 19 at-bats this season as he had in 52 at-bats during his frustrating spring training.
Switch-hitter Carlos Beltran, batting cleanup for the first time this season, had two singles from the right side and his second homer of the season from the left. Shane Robinson, starting in center for the first time this season, punctuated his three-hit day with a three-run homer, his first homer in the big leagues. He was able to retrieve the baseball from a fan in exchange for one that several of his veteran teammates signed as a finder’s fee.
For the second time in the three-game series, the Cardinals had an afternoon where every spot in the order reached base and eight scored or drove in a run.
“Every inning was a battle,” said Brewers starter Randy Wolf (0-1). “They have a good, balanced lineup. They really do, especially right now. I really hope they are peaking now because they look really good.”
Matheny modified that lineup for the first time this season, seeking to get catcher Yadier Molina a day off and resting Lance Berkman, who has struggled in his career against Wolf. The reconfigured lineup featured four backbenchers making their first starts of the season: Robinson, Tyler Greene at second, Matt Carpenter at first, and catcher Tony Cruz.
The most essential replacement though was Lynn.
He made four starts in spring training after Carpenter encountered nerve trouble. Matheny said he always had Lynn in mind as the insurance starter, but didn’t want to make the move until all hope had been exhausted for Carpenter. Lynn, a starter throughout his career in the minors, was able to develop his stamina for starting, but he kept the approach he developed through relieving.
“In years past when I started I would try to do too much with movement, trying to make the ball move,” Lynn said. “When I’m at my best I’m out there challenging hitters. That’s all I did.”
Said Matheny: “He took control.”
The Cardinals staked Lynn to a 1-0 lead when Matt Holliday doubled home Furcal in the first inning. Lynn’s first major league hit, a single, led to Furcal’s two-out RBI single in the fourth and a 2-0 lead. Lynn never pitched with more than a three-run lead.
Hart’s third homer of the series was the only blemish on his line, one otherwise dominated by strikes (51 of his first 73 pitches were strikes) and strikeouts. After Hart’s homer the next four batters struck out on two curves, one a 94 mph fastball and the other a 95 mph fastball.
“I was surprised that somebody could transition from the bullpen to starter and maintain his (high-speed) stuff,” Brewers outfielder Ryan Braun said.
Braun hit his first homer of the season as the Brewers tacked on runs in the eighth and ninth against the Cardinals’ bullpen.
Robinson maintained the gap with his ninth-inning homer.
Lynn faced the minimum through four innings, and during that flawless fourth, the Cardinals’ four starters watched together from the dugout. It was then that Adam Wainwright and Jake Westbrook started asking Kyle Lohse and Jaime Garcia about Carpenter’s return in a month or more. With Lynn overwhelming the Brewers, the four starters wondered which of them would be displaced by Carpenter.
It wasn’t so much a joke as a compliment to Lynn.
“Hopefully, it gives us confidence with Carp out during the time that he’s out that we can still win ballgames,” Lynn said. “And that they have that confidence in me. I just need to keep pitching well.”