Cardinals confident they can finish what they start vs. Pirates

The St. Louis Cardinals like their chances when they are leading late in a close game.

Heading into their series opener Tuesday on the road against the Pittsburgh Pirates, closer Ryan Helsley has converted 30 consecutive saves, which ties Lee Smith for the most by a St. Louis reliever before the All-Star break.

Helsley hasn’t blown a save since his season debut on March 30 against the Los Angeles Dodgers, when he ended up getting the win after St. Louis pulled out a 6-5 victory in 10 innings.

The Cardinals have been resolute in their intent to limit Helsley to three-out saves.

“Having him for the ninth only has been great,” Cardinals manager Oliver Marmol said. “Having him be a three-out closer has allowed him to be available more often, which is very helpful for us.”

Helsley said when the Cardinals informed him they wanted him to be a three-out closer this season, he knew he needed to be ready to take the ball every night.

“If they’re going to give me that option to only throw three outs, I need to be available to throw a lot more than I’m not,” he said. “That’s something I’ve always wanted to do, and I think it’s helped.”

Cardinals right-hander Kyle Gibson is scheduled to start on the mound in the series opener Tuesday.

Gibson (5-3, 3.70 ERA) is coming off his first loss in 2 1/2 months. He gave up four runs and four hits with five walks in four innings of a 6-2 loss to the Atlanta Braves on Wednesday.

Before that outing, Gibson was 4-0 with a 2.64 ERA in his previous 11 starts.

Gibson was particularly off in the second inning of his last start, walking three of the first five batters in the four-run frame.

“Just out of sync throughout that inning,” Marmol said. “It’s not like him at all to walk five.”

Gibson had been scratched from his previous start because of back and hip stiffness, but said that didn’t factor in his poor performance.

“Everything felt really good,” Gibson said. “Just, unfortunately, was a little out of sync at times.”

Gibson is 2-1 with a 3.65 ERA in four career starts against Pittsburgh.

The Pirates went 14-12 in June, capped by a 4-2 win against the Braves on Sunday.

“I think we had a solid month,” Pirates first baseman Rowdy Tellez said.

Pittsburgh plans to send right-hander Mitch Keller to the mound for the series opener.

Keller (9-4, 3.20) went 3-1 in five starts in June with a 2.35 ERA. That followed a May in which he finished 4-0 in four starts with a 1.30 ERA.

He most recently earned the win against the Cincinnati Reds last Tuesday after giving up four runs (three earned) and six hits over 5 2/3 innings in the 9-5 victory.

“Didn’t have his sharpest command,” Pirates manager Derek Shelton said. “I don’t think the sinker was as good as we’ve seen in the past. That’s why Mitch Keller is an elite starting pitcher. Even without his best stuff he was able to navigate through the game.”

Keller blanked the Reds over seven innings in his previous outing, six days earlier.

Keller has made 11 starts against the Cardinals in his career and is 2-2 with a 3.56 ERA.

He faced them on June 13 and took his only loss in his past nine outings, allowing four runs and eight hits in six innings of a 4-3 defeat.

–Field Level Media