Right-hander Miles Mikolas spent the past three seasons in Japan before returning to the major leagues when he signed a two-year, $15.5 million free agent contract with St. Louis last winter.
So what did the Cardinals get in Mikolas (3-0, 3.46 ERA), who is scheduled to start Friday night in a series opener against the Pittsburgh Pirates and left-hander Steven Brault (2-1, 4.44) at PNC Park?
A reliable pitcher with good velocity. He recently described himself as a pitcher with "a mid-90s thumber."
Mikolas had to explain that a thumber is "a crafty guy."
Cardinals manager Mike Matheny described him in more familiar, yet flattering terms after Mikolas' last outing, Sunday, when he picked up the win in a 9-2 victory against Cincinnati. He worked seven innings, with one earned run, six strikeouts and no walks.
"He's a horse, strong as a bull," Matheny said. "He can be one of those guys, from what we've seen in a number of starts now, we can be standing out there with a low pitch count. And that gives us the ability to push him further.
"He's had a history of being in the strike zone, which makes him efficient, but the stuff keeps getting better in our eyes."
Mikolas apparently is thriving in part because he feels he made the right choice of clubs.
"It's about being more comfortable, realizing if I make good pitches, good things are going to happen," he said. "We're talking about a team that has accepted me into their ranks."
In two career relief appearances against Pittsburgh before he went to Japan, Mikolas was 1-0, giving up two hits, no runs, with three strikeouts and one walk, in 2 2/3 innings.
The Cardinals (15-9) are coming off a 5-1 homestand and are 10-2 over their previous 12 games following a 4-3, 13-inning win Thursday against the Mets.
Pittsburgh has won two straight after a five-game losing streak. The Pirates are coming off a 1-0 win Thursday over Detroit.
"It's a shot in the arm," manager Clint Hurdle said after Corey Dickerson's walk-off homer backed eight shutout innings by Ivan Nova on Wednesday. "We'd been scuffling. We win a series. You get the dean on your staff to step up. ... Big shot in the arm. Good-looking series for us moving forward against a really good team."
Brault has been working as Pittsburgh's fifth starter since Joe Musgrove went on the disabled list early in the season. His last time out, a decent start - two runs in 5 1/3 innings - got buried by an ineffective bullpen in a 6-2 loss Saturday at Philadelphia.
"I had a real good feel for my pitches," said Brault, who reached 93 pitches, but only 43 of them strikes. "I just have to do a better job throwing strikes. I hate to get taken out in the sixth."
Brault is 0-0 with a 3.38 ERA in two career appearances totaling eight innings against St. Louis.
In a noteworthy development, Pittsburgh third baseman Jung Ho Kang, after immigration issues following DUIs in his native South Korea, has been granted a work visa and has re-entered the United States. He has been on the Major League Restricted List since the start of last season and will remain there as he fulfills a treatment program obligation. He then will report to Pirate City in Bradenton, Fla., for conditioning.