ST. LOUIS — The verb Cardinals manager Oliver Marmol used again and again Friday afternoon upon his team’s return to Busch Stadium was “stabilize.”
The outfield needed to “stabilize,” the starting rotation had started to “stabilize,” and all of that was going to help the club, still loitering at the bottom of the National League standings, to “stabilize” — and then resurface as a contender.
Marmol even offered a recipe for that to happen.
That rotation was starting to do its part, the bullpen needed to find its roles, and a commitment was being made to play better defense in the outfield.
As he let all three cook Friday, a dash of offense didn’t hurt.
The Cardinals got three home runs, added on late, and turned Jordan Montgomery’s six scoreless innings into something he’s been chasing for more than six weeks. The Cardinals secured the lefty’s first win since April 8 and their first win in his past 10 starts with a 7-4 victory against Cincinnati on Friday at Busch Stadium. Nolan Arenado claimed the lead with his longest home run as a Cardinal (429 feet), and rookie Jordan Walker followed with one even longer (431 feet) in his first home game since returning from the minors.
A week after blowing a five-run lead at Pittsburgh, the Cardinals did Friday what they did not do then — add runs late. Nolan Gorman’s 15th homer in the seventh firewalled the lead against even the flicker of a late threat from the Reds.
“What do we need to stabilize?” Marmol said. “The rotation is starting to do that on its own. We’re seeing better starts, especially comparatively speaking. Our bullpen needs to start creating an identity around trust. We trust you in these situations, 1-2-3, go. Our outfield play hasn’t been ideal. It just hasn’t. It’s rotated quite a bit due to injuries. But that’s an area we need to stabilize.”
The game played out like he described.
Montgomery (3-7) authored his first quality start in a month. The bullpen wobbled in the seventh around Jordan Hicks before Andre Pallante steadied — stabilized it — and the outfield got the homer from Walker and key catches by Tommy Edman in center. Giovanny Gallegos got his eighth save.
Tale of the tape: NL Central super-prospects
Less than a week into his big-league career, Reds shortstop and cleanup Elly De La Cruz appeared in his first NL Central game and visited his first rival, playing opposite another of the 6-foot-6 young pillars popping up and poised to take over the division.
The opening bout went to Walker.
The Cardinals’ towering prospect drilled a two-run homer in his first at-bat, belting a curveball over the left-field wall and pinballing into the Reds’ bullpen. The home run — Walker’s fourth of the season and second since returning from the minors — traveled 431 feet. His first 25 hits in the big leagues came against 25 different pitchers, and it wasn’t until his single in the fourth inning off Reds’ starter Ben Lively that Walker had multiple hits off the same pitcher.
De La Cruz, like the Cardinals’ Walker, powered his way to the majors before his 22nd birthday, and got there fast with elite exit velocity. De La Cruz flashed it quickly with three of the hardest hit balls by a Red so far this season, including his first big-league homer. That left his bat at 114.8 mph and traveled 458 feet, coming one row shy of leaving Great American Ball Park and soaring toward the Ohio River.
De La Cruz’s first week in the majors dovetails with Walker’s second stint in the majors, and Friday was De La Cruz’s fourth game in the majors.
Montgomery struck him out on three pitches in the first inning to welcome him to the division. The Cardinals’ lefty struck De La Cruz out in all three at-bats against each other, and De La Cruz would not get his first hit vs. the Cardinals until the eighth inning. In the third, with a runner on second, De La Cruz worked Montgomery to a full count before the sheer velocity of his bat could not connect with Montgomery’s drop-down, 84-mph changeup.
Change of fortune for Montgomery
That was the pitch that bedeviled the lefty for much of the 10-game stretch without a win. He gave up a home run on the changeup that floated in Pittsburgh, leaving the lefty to shake his head.
“Probably the one changeup that I threw bad all day,” Montgomery said.
The feel pitch has bobbed and misbehaved at times this season, and there have also been times when Montgomery has force-fed it to hitters trying to get the pitch to cooperate. As he plays his sinker and four-seam fastball off of each other, the changeup is a pitch that keeps hitters honest and off his best pitch, that sinker. If the hitter can dismiss the changeup as a pitch Montgomery cannot land, they can key on the sinker.
When the changeup is effective, games like Friday happens.
Montgomery threw 97 pitches, 43 of which were sinkers. The pitch he threw second-most often was the changeup. He threw 29. Ten got a swing and miss. The Reds did not put one of his changeups in play through six innings.
Arenado takes off on green light
In his decadelong career, Arenado got to a 3-0 count 168 times before without turning a green light into a home run.
That ended Friday night with his longest home run as a Cardinal.
With two outs and a teammate on base in the first inning, Arenado watched three balls pass by from Lively. The right-hander struck out the previous two Cardinals he faced, but this wasn’t a situation were Arenado was going to turn down a pitch he could drive at 3-0. Whether he got the green light, took the green light, or there wasn’t any need to let him know he had the green light, Arenado drilled the first strike of the at-bat for the first runs of the game and a 2-0 lead.
Arenado’s home run traveled an estimated 429 feet, the longest of the 76 home runs he’s hit as a Cardinal. It went 12 inches farther than this 428-foot shot against the Cubs.
Arenado became the first player with at least 300 career home runs to hit his first 3-0 homer after his 300th homer since Carlos Lee, the former Brewers’ and Astros’ slugger. Arenado’s 3-0 homer was his 311th, and according to Elias, Lee hit a 3-0 homer for his 354th.
DeJong determined on defense
As Montgomery cruised through his final 3 2/3 innings, shortstop Paul DeJong had a hand in maintaining the lefty’s efficiency.
Three times in the span of four batters, DeJong made a range of plays for outs. Reds catcher Tyler Stephenson bounced a grounder up the middle that brought DeJong striding to his right. DeJong had to dive to glove the ball before it kissed the outfield grass, and he was able to get up to his feet and sling the ball to first base for the out. At the start of the fifth inning, speedy outfield TJ Hopkins skipped a grounder at DeJong and he kept a steady pace with his play to still beat the swift runner by a beat at first base.