St. Louis Cardinals right-hander John Gant, who made 81 relief appearances the past two years, will make his first start since 2018 when he faces the host Miami Marlins on Tuesday night.
The Cardinals won the series opener 4-1 on Monday.
For his career, Gant has been more effective as a reliever (13-5, 3.60 ERA) than as a starter (6-10, 3.99).
However, the 28-year-old Georgia native made an impressive transition back to starting this year in spring training, striking out 13 batters in 14 1/3 innings.
The key, Gant said, was sharpening his mechanics.
“I would describe it as learning to use my athleticism more,” Gant said. “Instead of going out there and ‘country-boy slinging,’ I’m trying to be more efficient.”
Gant, who is 2-1 with a 2.89 ERA in seven career appearances (two starts) against the Marlins, went back to basics this past winter, working with pitching guru Javier Magria, a former Pirates minor-leaguer.
Magria helped refine Gant’s biting changeup, a pitch that can bedevil hitters.
“I want all my pitches to look exactly the same,” Gant said, “until the hitter has to make a decision whether to swing or not. From there, the pitch will do what it does.”
Gant, however, probably won’t go past five or six innings on Tuesday. That’s because the OPS against him the first time through a batting order is .641, but, on the third trip through, it’s a much more dangerous .863.
As for Miami’s offense, it’s hard to know what to expect. The Marlins erupted for 12 runs on Saturday, scoring in seven of their eight innings. But in their other three games combined, the Marlins have scored a total of just five runs.
The Marlins have a veteran lineup, including a trio of 32-year-olds: center fielder Starling Marte, shortstop Miguel Rojas and right fielder Adam Duvall. In addition, left fielder Corey Dickerson and super-sub Jon Berti are 31, and first baseman Jesus Aguilar and outfielder Garrett Cooper are both 30.
Cooper, however, is on the injured list after a bad reaction to taking the COVID-19 vaccine.
That still leaves a lot of veteran hitters to face Gant. Marte, by the way, is batting .417 in 12 career at-bats against Gant.
Miami will start right-hander Sandy Alcantara, who was acquired from the Cardinals in the Marcell Ozuna trade of December 2017.
Ozuna is no longer with the Cardinals, but the Marlins are happy with their end of the trade as Alcantara became an All-Star in 2019 and went 3-2 with a 3.00 ERA in seven starts last year.
Alcantara was brilliant in Miami’s 2021 season opener, tossing six scoreless innings and striking out seven.
“I felt like he did his job,” Marlins manager Don Mattingly said of Alcantara’s performance in that 1-0 loss to the Tampa Bay Rays on Thursday.
For his career, Alcantara is 11-19 with a 3.63 ERA in 54 appearances, including 46 starts. Alcantara, 25, is 0-1 with a 1.80 ERA in his only appearance against St. Louis.
The Cardinals’ offense is led by third baseman Nolan Arenado, who is batting .412; first baseman Paul Goldschmidt (.375); and catcher Yadier Molina, who drove in two runs in Monday’s victory.
Cardinals leadoff batter Tommy Edman, who got zero fielding chances at second base on Monday, made his mark on the game with a walk, a homer and two runs.
“Obviously,” Edman said, “you have to stay ready.”
–Field Level Media