LOS ANGELES — While the Cardinals have gathered so little momentum on this road trip as they dropped south on the Pacific Coast Highway, one member of the traveling party will return in a far different place than he started.
Genesis Cabrera, once the hard-throwing lefty the Cardinals turned to in late innings, has worked his way back toward that role with a series of four scoreless appearances on the road trip this past week. He struck out four of the five batters he faced Tuesday in a loss in San Francisco, and within Thursday’s 6-0 victory against the Giants at Oracle Park, Cabrera pitched 1 2/3 scoreless innings for the second consecutive outing.
“Man, it’s a combination of things — velo is up, confidence is through the roof, and the slider is real,” manager Oliver Marmol said. “This is a very, very good version of Cabby.”
Flagging velocity and the inconsistency that followed put Cabrera in Class AAA Memphis last season, and he was one of the final cuts of spring training this year so that he could continue to pursue the needed improvement: revving the mph. Cabrera’s fastball slowed from an average of 97.7 mph in 2021 to 96.1 mph last season, and a result his other pitches, became less effective. He did not have a slider to trust and rarely threw it.
He threw more sliders Thursday than any other pitch, and six of the 16 he pitched got a swing and a miss from the Giants.
“For him, it was the velo — was like the main thing,” Marmol said. “There’s a certain level of performance when he’s under 95 mph and a certain level of performance when’s above 95 mph. And it allows all of his other stuff to play differently. He’s pounding the zone with his stuff now, and the velo is there, which gets more swing and miss on the slider, having to gear up for 96 mph and above.”
In total this season, Cabrera’s fastball has averaged 95.2 mph — but on the road trip it’s building momentum. He touched 97.7 mph against the Giants on Thursday and averaged 95.9 mph. Two days earlier, Cabrera averaged 95.8 mph on his fastball and threw more sliders (17) than any other pitch — averaging 89.5 mph on it and getting eight swings and misses.
“My velocity at the beginning of the season was not that hard, but as the season goes, I start going higher, and that’s one of the things,” Cabrera said, through a team interpreter. “The more that I pitch, the better that I feel, and the velocity has starting to get up a little bit better.”
And his role can get a little bit bigger.
Six of Cabrera’s first nine appearances came in games the Cardinals lost, and at the start of the road trip he was shouldering lower-leverage innings. On Thursday, he entered a two-run game, earned a hold, and when the Cardinals widened the lead got to keep going to save a teammate from warming up. On the trip, Cabrera has struck out seven of the 16 batters he’s faced, and he’s allowed only five to reach base.
“When you have a little run like he’s having you start to build on it,” Marmol said.
O’Neill scratched with back injury
Left fielder Tyler O’Neill was a late scratch from Friday night’s lineup due to tightness in his mid-back. The decision was made shortly before the game and meant shuffling the outfield to put Dylan Carlson in center, move Lars Nootbaar from center to right, and shift rookie Alec Burleson from right to left.
O’Neill was listed as day to day, according to a team official late Friday night. He found a spot in the dugout near coach Willie McGee to watch the first inning.
After O’Neill’s removal, the setup of the outfield Friday was the one that Marmol said he was most likely to use when Burleson is in the lineup and O’Neill is not. Part of the streamlining of the outfield in the past week was to identify O’Neill as the left fielder, Carlson as the defensive choice in center, and Nootbaar as either center or right depending on if he’s sharing the outfield with Carlson.
Wilking Rodriguez’s progress stalled
Power reliever Wilking Rodriguez experienced renewed soreness in his right shoulder and will not pitch as scheduled on his rehab assignment Saturday for Class AAA Memphis, Marmol said. The Cardinals are calling the setback a “pause” in Rodriguez’s throwing, though they had not yet made a decision on whether they will officially pause his minor-league rehab assignment.
Rodriguez has been on the injured list since spring training with pain in his right shoulder. He made three appearances for Triple-A Memphis, struck out one and allowed two runs (unearned) on three hits in three innings. He left his last outing without recording an out.
The right-hander is the Cardinals’ Rule 5 pick from the Yankees’ organization, and roster maneuvers involving him will be watched. He must either be on the major-league roster or the injured list, and the Cardinals cannot stash him in the minors. If not on the active roster or IL, he must be passed through waivers for other teams to select and then offered back to the Yankees if not selected by another team. Only the Yankees can have him on a minor-league roster unless a trade is worked out for his rights.
Walker, Pujols & Ohtani
Jordan Walker homered for the first time at Class AAA on Friday night as Memphis played Durham. In his second game since moving to the Triple-A roster, the Cardinals’ top prospect hit a solo homer in the fourth inning. He made his Memphis Redbirds debut Thursday night, a day after being demoted from the big-league club, and he went zero-for-four. … Albert Pujols, who hits his 700th career home run in the Cardinals’ previous visit to Dodger Stadium, popped by to visit with his former teams and teammates Friday evening. Pujols spent some time in the Cardinals’ clubhouse talking with coaches, and he was on the field during Dodgers batting practice. Pujols continues to work with the Los Angeles Angels, per a personal service contracts that has him doing special assignments for the front office. … Shohei Ohtani is on turn to start Wednesday night for the Angels at Busch Stadium. It will be the two-way star’s first time pitching in St. Louis. The Angels have Ohtani on a six-day rotation.
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