Cardinals closer Helsley OK for wild-card round vs Phillies
ST. LOUIS (AP) — St. Louis Cardinals hard-throwing closer Ryan Helsley is available for Game 1 of their National League wild-card series against the Philadelphia Phillies on Friday.
Helsley hurt his finger in his final regular-season tune-up this week but was included on manager Oliver Marmol’s roster, which was due about three hours before first pitch in St. Louis. He had jammed his right middle finger on a fluke play against the Pirates on Tuesday, but he threw during a workout Thursday and pronounced himself ready to go for the best-of-three series.
Helsley leads one of the best bullpens in baseball, which includes fellow flamethrower Jordan Hicks, who recently spent a couple of weeks on the injured list with neck spasms and fatigue in his right arm. Right-handers Giovanny Gallegos, Steven Matz and Andre Pallante were joined by left-handers Packy Naughton and Zack Thompson.
The Cardinals, who picked Jose Quintana to start Game 1 and will use Miles Mikolas in Game 2 on Saturday, also had the remainder of their rotation available out of the bullpen: Adam Wainwright, Jack Flaherty and Jordan Montgomery.
“We feel good about the versatility of our ‘pen,” Marmol said Friday.
There were no surprises with the rest of the St. Louis roster, which included 12 pitchers and 14 position players: MVP candidates Nolan Arenado and Paul Goldschmidt were joined by fellow infielders Albert Pujols, Paul DeJong, Brendan Donovan, Tommy Edman and Nolan Gorman. Dylan Carlson, Ben DeLuzio, Corey Dickerson, Lars Nootbaar and Juan Yepez will man the outfield; and Andrew Knizner and Yadier Molina will be behind the plate.
Pujols began the season in an awkward platoon because he had problems hitting right-handed pitching. But a roaring second half in which he eclipsed 700 career home runs erased any pressure on Marmol to replace him at designated hitter.
“When you’re sitting there and pinch-hitting for a future Hall of Famer, one of the best hitters to play the game, with a rookie, it doesn’t feel right,” Marmol said with a smile, “but we had to play the percentages early on. Then he started to hit both and he’s been one of the hottest hitters and baseball and it’s made it easy.”
The Phillies opted to go with 13 pitchers for their first postseason appearance since 2011, when the Cardinals beat them in a dramatic five-game divisional series on their way to winning the World Series title.
Along with Game 1 starter Zack Wheeler and Saturday starter Aaron Nola, Phillies manager Rob Thomson included right-handers Andrew Bellatti, Connor Brogdon, Seranthony Dominguez, Zach Eflin, Kyle Gibson, David Robertson and Noah Syndergaard and left-handers Jose Alvarado, Baily Falter, Brad Hand and Ranger Suarez.
“We wanted to make sure we were covered on length,” Thomson said of the decision to include Falter, Syndergaard and Gibson over reliever Nick Nelson —the only major decision he faced in constructing his playoff roster.
“Wheeler and Nola have pitched in big games before,” Thomson added. “It gives everybody in the clubhouse, including myself, a lot of confidence when you have two guys like that who can give you length, that have great stuff — the moment isn’t going to get the best of them. It gives you confidence, no doubt.”
The Phillies’ outfield included Nick Castellanos, Kyle Schwarber and Matt Vierling with Brandon Marsh available off the bench. Rhys Hoskins, Alec Bohm, Jean Segura and Bryson Stott were the starting infielders Friday with Nick Maton and Edmundo Sosa also available. JT Realmuto was behind the plate with Garrett Stubbs backing up, and Bryce Harper was back at designated hitter and hitting cleanup for the series opener.
“It’s been a grind to get through this last month-and-a-half or so,” said Harper, whose injury issues this season have kept him out of the outfield. “Right now I’m just trying to do everything I can to help. We’re at the time of the year where everybody is at zeros. You’re just trying to get runs over the plate and get runs for the pitchers we do have. If we can get a few runs on the board, it’ll take care of it.”
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