MLB Insiders: St. Louis Cardinals

The Pirates open a three-game series in St. Louis on Monday night. Right-hander Charlie Morton will on the hill for the Bucs. The Cards will toss right-hander Kyle Lohse.

Albert Pujols is off to a slow start, but a three-game series with the Pittsburgh Pirates could change that in a hurry.

The St. Louis Cardinals wouldn't mind some production from the three-time NL MVP as he looks to continue his dominance of the visiting Pirates on Monday night.

Pujols is in ideal position to shake his slump. The first baseman is a .374 lifetime hitter against Pittsburgh. His 134 RBIs versus the Pirates are his most against any opponent and his 45 homers are two fewer than his production against the Chicago Cubs.

He's batted a whopping .458 with six homers and 16 RBIs in his last 20 home meetings with the Pirates, and is 4 for 10 off their scheduled starter, Charlie Morton.

While Pujols tries to regain his stroke, Kyle Lohse is looking to regain the form that produced a career-high 15 wins in 2008 - his first season with St. Louis. The right-hander has totaled 10 wins since while struggling with various injuries. He went 4-8 with a 6.55 ERA in 18 starts last year.

However, Lohse turned in a productive spring training, allowing five runs in 24 innings over five starts.

Lohse is 5-1 with a 3.41 ERA in 10 games versus Pittsburgh.

Morton went 2-12 with a 7.57 ERA in 17 starts last season.

One of Morton's victories came against the Cardinals and Lohse on Sept. 22, when he allowed two runs and four hits in six innings while McCutchen went 2 for 3 with an RBI and two runs scored in Pittsburgh's 11-6 home win.

Lohse lasted just three innings and was tagged for six runs and seven hits.

The Pirates have dropped eight of their last nine games in St. Louis.

After an ugly camp statistically, but not physically, left-hander Jaime Garcia -- whose last win came on Sept. 3 -- made his first appearance of the season Sunday.

When the winds blowing toward right field at Busch Stadium suggested a shootout, Garcia instead threw a 2-0 shutout against San Diego.

Garcia allowed just four singles and fanned a career-high nine after a spring training in which, he allowed 37 hits in 17 innings before his final start. But, pitching coach Dave Duncan said, "His stuff was good. He wasn't always making quality pitches with it.

"Part of spring is refining all your pitches. As the spring went on, he never got worse. He always got better. He never once was disappointed in his stuff. He was disappointed in his location. When you're a four-pitch pitcher, it takes spring training to get ready to pitch."

Garcia admitted he was letting his head get in the way.

"I was thinking too much (in the spring)," he said. "I was thinking things I'm not supposed to be thinking. But I wasn't worried at all because I knew I had the stuff."

A 13-game winner in his rookie season, Garcia was shut down for the final three weeks last year because of arm fatigue although he was not reported to be hurt.

"It worked out good," said Garcia. "I wasn't hurt but maybe I go back and pitch those last games and get hurt. You never know."

NOTES, QUOTES

--Manager Tony La Russa, who has used the strategy in several other seasons, batted the pitcher eighth and 3B Daniel Descalso ninth on Sunday. Much of the reason was because LF Matt Holliday, the cleanup hitter, was out of the lineup after having had an appendectomy. 1B Albert Pujols, the No. 3 hitter in the lineup, became the cleanup hitter every other time the lineup turned over. Descalso had one in three at-bats and helped an eighth-inning run besides playing well in the field.

--LF Matt Holliday was in the clubhouse two days after his appendectomy but is at least several days away from playing. The Cardinals will wait until later in the week to determine if they should put Holliday on the disabled list. They are operating with 24 players for the time being.

--1B Albert Pujols celebrated the 10th anniversary of his major league debut Saturday by hitting his 95th homer at new Busch Stadium, which is in its sixth season. Pujols hit 94 homers at the former Busch Stadium in the five seasons he played in that ball park.

--SS Ryan Theriot drove in his first run as a Cardinal with an eighth-inning single Sunday. Theriot did not play particularly well in the field during the first three games of the season.

--OF Lance Berkman, who battled elbow and calf issues this spring, played his second consecutive complete game in right field. Berkman seems to be running well and had three singles in 10 at-bats for the first series.

BY THE NUMBERS: 4 -- Double plays grounded into in the first series by 1B Albert Pujols. He hit into three in the first game of the season -- the first time he has ever hit into three DPs in one game.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "You've got to get off zero. It hangs around awhile and all of a sudden it gets bigger than it should be. Over the long season, if you're good enough, your record is going to reflect it. But you don't want to be walking around with an anvil on your back." -- Manager Tony La Russa, on his team's first win after two losses.

ROSTER REPORT
MEDICAL WATCH:

--LF Matt Holliday (appendectomy) underwent the procedure April 1. He figures to be out at least a week or two, and the team was weighing whether to place him on the disabled list.

--RHP Adam Wainwright (Tommy John surgery in February 2011) went on the 60-day disabled list March 25. He will miss the entire 2011 season.

--INF Nick Punto (hernia surgery in February 2011) went on the 15-day disabled list retroactive to March 22. He hopes to return in late April.


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