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Cardinals, Reds not quite sure about pitching matchup

By Alan Robinson, The Sports Xchange
Cincinnati Reds starting pitcher Homer Bailey delivers a pitch to the St. Louis Cardinals in the sixth inning at Busch Stadium in St. Louis on April 21, 2018. St. Louis defeated Cincinnati 4-3. Photo by Bill Greenblatt/UPI | <a href="/News_Photos/lp/dc51c6cd466f214ffe0d6c2a9feba94f/" target="_blank">License Photo</a>
Cincinnati Reds starting pitcher Homer Bailey delivers a pitch to the St. Louis Cardinals in the sixth inning at Busch Stadium in St. Louis on April 21, 2018. St. Louis defeated Cincinnati 4-3. Photo by Bill Greenblatt/UPI | License Photo

Austin Gomber has exactly zero career major league starts, so the St. Louis Cardinals won't quite know what they'll have when he takes the mound Tuesday night against the Cincinnati Reds.

Homer Bailey has made 204 career starts, yet the Reds still don't quite know what they'll get when their long-struggling former ace opposes Gomber at Great American Ball Park.

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Then again, the Cardinals didn't know what to expect from rookie right-hander Daniel Poncedeleon on Monday night, and all he did was make one of the most remarkable debut starts in major league history.

Poncedeleon pitched seven no-hit innings before being taken out after throwing 116 pitches, only to watch as the Cardinals lost the no-hitter on pinch-hitter Phillip Ervin's single off Jordan Hicks in the eighth. Then, they lost the game 2-1 in the ninth on Eugenio Suarez's two-out solo homer and Dilson Herrera's pinch-hit RBI single off Bud Norris.

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"Tough loss," Cardinals interim manager Mike Shildt said, in an understatement.

Only three other rookies in the expansion era that began in 1961 have taken a no-hitter deeper into their debut game than Poncedeleon did. His effort was all the more remarkable given that a year ago, he was healing after taking a line drive off the side of his head in a Triple-A game -- an injury that hospitalized him for three weeks and nearly cost him his life.

"I don't know if words can describe that (performance)," Shildt said. "Talk about magical. That's what's magical about our game, what's special about our game, (when you) see stories like that. A great job and I wish it could have been a better ending for him."

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The Reds stopped a four-game losing streak and beat the Cardinals for the fourth time in five games after ending a 13-game losing streak to them only last month.

"Really big hits by some guys late," Reds interim manager Jim Riggleman said. "It's certainly a morale booster ... when the season is so long and you play so many games."

Now, the Cardinals (50-50), in the unaccustomed role of being closer to last place in the NL Central than they are to first place, will send out a pitcher with no career starts for the second night in a row.

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With top starter Carlos Martinez out with an oblique strain, and the Cardinals wanting to use a left-handed starter against the Reds, they'll try to get as many innings as they can from Gomber. He's been used mostly as a left-handed specialist this season, pitching only 14 1/3 innings in 15 Cardinals games, but is 7-3 with a 3.42 ERA in 12 games with Triple-A Memphis -- all but one of them starts.

Gomber, who threw 80 pitches in his last start for Memphis, will be the first left-hander to start for St. Louis this season. He last pitched for the Cardinals on July 3, working two-thirds of an inning against Arizona.

Bailey, who's thrown two no-hitters in the majors, began the season as the Reds' No.1 starter but never pitched like it, going a dismal 1-7 with a 6.68 ERA while allowing at least three earned runs in each of his final nine starts. He permitted 16 earned runs in 13 2/3 innings over his last three starts, the last coming May 28.

The 32-year-old Bailey was later sent to Triple-A Louisville to rehabilitate a right knee injury and get straightened out, and he had a 2-2 record with a 4.78 ERA in seven games, six of them starts.

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"The report was really positive on what he did," Riggleman said. "He had a lot of strikeouts (28 in 37 2/3 innings). In the bigger picture, you want to get outs. But that was something he was doing a lot. He wasn't getting strikeouts (before). It may indicate he's fine-tuning a put-away pitch for strike three."

The Reds are paying Bailey $21 million this season, with $23 million committed to next season, and they'd like to start getting some return on what so far has been one of the worst contracts ever given a starting pitcher.

Since signing a six-year, $105 million contract before the 2014 season, Bailey is 18-25 and missed most of the 2015 and 2016 seasons with injuries. When he has pitched, he hasn't had an ERA lower than 5.56 since 2014 (9-5, 3.71 ERA).

With Bailey back, the Reds will go at least temporarily with a six-man rotation -- right-hander Sal Romano (5-8) starts Wednesday -- though veteran right-hander Matt Harvey (5-6) is likely to be dealt before the July 31 deadline for trading without waivers.

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