Vet’s advice leads Andre Pallante’s best bid yet to be 5th starter, needed win for Cardinals (2024)

Vet’s advice leads Andre Pallante’s best bid yet to be 5th starter, needed win for Cardinals (1)

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The Cardinals waited almost as long as they could before naming a starter for Sunday’s series finale against Colorado, confirming a few hours before first pitch that Andre Pallante would be the one to deliver it.

He might have made the next decision for them several days early.

In his callback for the opening in the rotation, Pallante authored five scoreless innings, struck out six and turned advice from a veteran starter into his most assertive outing yet. A variety of offensive contributors, from Alec Burleson’s solo homer to Masyn Winn’s two-run liner, lifted the Cardinals to a 5-1 victory against Colorado at Busch Stadium and a split of the four-game series.

Pallante’s start was at the core of a well-rounded win for the Cardinals at a much-needed time.

“All the way around, very good,” manager Oliver Marmol said.

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The win against the Rockies regained the Cardinals’ foothold in the bunched-up National League Central standings. In second place one day and last the next, the Cardinals, at 31-33, are part of a four-team pileup, all within half a game of each other. With three games remaining in this homestand, including Tuesday’s St. Louis debut of Pittsburgh hotshot rookie pitcher Paul Skenes, the Cardinals can leave town as a winning team despite recent struggles and notable absences.

How they’ve covered for missing contributors was key to keeping Colorado from a series victory in its visit.

Burleson, his playing time increased with Lars Nootbaar on the injured list, set a career high with his ninth homer of the season. He’s slugging .600 with more home runs (four) than strikeouts (three) in the past week. That has given the Cardinals a left-handed presence with Nootbaar recovering from a strained oblique muscle. Burleson’s homer to lead off the third inning cleared the outstretched glove of a Rockies outfielder and doubled the Cardinals’ lead on the way to 4-0 with Pallante in the game.

Vet’s advice leads Andre Pallante’s best bid yet to be 5th starter, needed win for Cardinals (2)

Of the chest-high pitch he launched, Burleson said: “That is where I like the ball.”

The Cardinals’ search for who replaces Steven Matz (back) in the rotation has been less clear, less direct than the outfield or left-handed thump.

Pallante strengthened his claim Sunday.

But it began this past week when veteran Kyle Gibson questioned the young right-hander’s approach to a bullpen session.

“He called me out,” Pallante said. “(In) my bullpen, I was throwing all of my pitches. Kind of not really had a plan with what I was working on. He’s like, ‘That’s not how you improve. Work on what you’re trying to work on.’ When you’re working on something, you throw 15 to 20 pitches in your bullpen like that.”

So Pallante did — in two bullpen sessions, one with a twist.

In the first, a lighter throw, catcher Pedro Pages set up on the plate to close the gap between him and Pallante. Pages put a towel down in front of his feet as a visual for a smaller, leaner plate, and Pallante threw fastball after fastball after fastball to carve up that towel in thirds. He took that aggressiveness into a full bullpen session the next day with Willson Contreras behind the plate.

All week, in preparation for a possible start, pitching coach Dusty Blake and Gibson stressed the importance to Pallante of getting ahead in the count by trusting the movement on the fastball. Pallante even repeated it Sunday afternoon: “Trust your stuff. Get ahead. Get your first strike.”

“Focused on fastball command,” said Pages, who scored twice and had the Cardinals’ first RBI of the day with a sacrifice fly. “That’s going to help him a lot. That’s his main pitch — his fastball, especially to lefties. He’s going to be attacking. The fact that he just has to trust it. Throw it through the middle of the plate, and it’s going to cut or run. It’s going to go somewhere. And he just has to trust that. Not think too much that, ‘I’ve got to be perfect with it.’ He’s not going to be a finesse guy.”

Pallante (2-1) got ahead on 13 of the 18 batters he faced. That put him in the advantage at times to do more than invite a ground ball — he could defy the bat. Pallante struck out six for the first time in a game since July 2022. He got six swings and misses on his fastball alone and 13 total. Five came on the knuckle curve he played off the fastball and threw more often at the urging of opening day starter Miles Mikolas.

“It was a pitch I’ve never really felt comfortable with,” Pallante said, explaining that he often mothballed the curve as a reliever. “When I feel comfortable with it, I am able to use it like that. And the more I throw it, the better it gets.”

The Rockies opened Pallante’s second inning with back-to-back singles, including a ground-ball single past the reach of an infielder. In Houston, against an Astros lineup geared for his tendencies, Pallante complicated his start by falling behind in counts and walking batters. He had one walk in five innings Sunday, and that came on a full-count pitch. When the Rockies had two on and no outs in the second, Pallante didn’t veer from the target that was once a towel.

He trusted his stuff.

He got ahead.

He got strike one.

He used the curve.

Pallante sizzled two fastballs past Jake Cave to begin the at-bat and then dropped the curve for a ground ball that Winn turned into a double play. Pallante fell behind 1-0 to the next batter, Michael Toglia. But two four-seam fastballs followed to regain the count and set up the curve. Pallante plunged one at 82 mph that Pages blocked for the inning-ending strikeout.

Pallante got 12 outs from the final 13 batters he faced. Eleven were strikeouts or outs in the infield. The Cardinals had the bullpen lined up to handle the next 12 outs.

Bookending Pallante’s six-run start in Houston are two scoreless appearances of six innings in Cincinnati and five Sunday. In six weeks since Matz’s injury, the Cardinals have used a fifth starter six times, evenly split between Pallante and lefty Matthew Liberatore. In that spot, they’ve combined to allow 15 runs on 26 hits through 24 innings. They’ve also struck out 20. The Cardinals went 3-3 in those games.

Pallante learned Sunday morning, officially, that he was starting that game. The Cardinals considered either him or a one-inning opener. Another choice looms for Saturday at Wrigley Field. Pallante will wait to hear a decision, even if his start already influenced it.

“I think the big thing I’ve been focusing on is not thinking about that stuff, not thinking about what the team needs, where the team is,” Pallante said. “The only thing I can control is the pitch I’m throwing in that moment, and I’m trying to tune everything else out. I’m not thinking about anything down the road. ...

“If I’m building and improving every start — that’s the goal.”

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Vet’s advice leads Andre Pallante’s best bid yet to be 5th starter, needed win for Cardinals (2024)
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