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News » Pitcher's winning streak reaches four as he relies on his sinking fastball

Pitcher's winning streak reaches four as he relies on his sinking fastball

Pitcher's winning streak reaches four as he relies on his sinking fastball
ATLANTA - The last time Joel Pineiro won four consecutive starts occurred during the Seattle Mariners' Summer of '03, when Ryan Franklin shared a berth in the M's rotation.

Before this month, the last time Pineiro put so much trust in those behind him was, well, never.

Monday night, the same guy who entered spring training as the fifth wheel of the Cardinals' rotation emerged with a well-oiled 3-2 win over the Atlanta Braves at Turner Field. Rather than try to dazzle a crowd of 16,739 with high heat, Pineiro was rewarded for feeding the Braves a heavy diet of two-seam fastballs and letting a much-scrutinized defense do its work.

quot;That's what I try to do: move the ball as quick as I can,quot; Pineiro said. quot;You trust your defense. I throw that sinker in any count and hopefully they swing at it.quot;

The Cardinals (14-6) also won for the sixth time in seven games as left fielder Chris Duncan and center fielder Rick Ankiel combined for three two-out RBI singles and Brendan Ryan turned a third start at shortstop into an episode of quot;Dancing with the Stars.quot;

Flush with a playoff-quality win, manager Tony La Russa said, quot;It was tense.quot;

Along with the Cardinals' sixth error-free game this season, Pineiro (4-0) benefited from the bullpen's 2 1/3 high-wire innings. Chris Perez rescued Pineiro from a seventh-inning jam before Kyle McClellan created, then defused a bases-loaded predicament in the eighth by keeping lefthanded-swinging first baseman Casey Kotchman from a fourth hit.

Now the Cardinals' unchallenged closer, Franklin worked a perfect ninth inning for his sixth save in as many chances.

Pineiro had not won four consecutive starts since going 16-11 in 2003 with Seattle. He then descended into oblivion within the Pawtucket Red Sox rotation before finding religion, or at least a new sinker-heavy philosophy. Monday's reward was 20 outs on only 76 pitches five days after he held the New York Mets to two runs in eight innings.

From Monday's first pitch, Pineiro worked with a lead.

Back-to-back two-out singles by right fielder Ryan Ludwick and Duncan nicked hard-throwing Braves starter Jair Jurrjens (2-2) for a first-inning run.

Ankiel followed Ryan's one-out sacrifice and Skip Schumaker's two-out walk with a single to center field to create a 2-0 lead in the second inning.

quot;Those hits are always huge,quot; Ankiel said.

Pineiro last season made sport out of handing over hard-won leads, often in the fourth or fifth innings. This year, he has tightened his focus, modified his approach and been rewarded with some of the Cardinals' best defense. He has as many walks (six) as strikeouts in his four-game rush.

The ground ball has become Pineiro's best friend. Last year, Pineiro tried to be a strikeout pitcher and waited until Aug. 6 for his fourth win.

quot;He's stayed in games now,quot; La Russa said. quot;He was pulled (early last year) because it was getting away from him. A lot of it had to do with his conditioning. He started pressing. He's already earned the benefit of the doubt.quot;

Besides Pineiro, four plays especially frustrated the Braves in Monday's middle innings.

Ryan began an inning-ending double play in the fourth before marking the fifth with a sliding backhand stop-and-throw from his right knee against catcher David Ross' smash.

quot;I want to make every play. Any ball I can get to I want to make a play on,quot; Ryan said.

After pinch hitter Omar Infante singled to open the sixth inning, Ryan ranged behind second base to retrieve Kelly Johnson's slow grounder, scrambled to the bag and gunned a throw for a double play. Catcher Yadier Molina then negated a two-out single by picking off Yunel Escobar.

quot;The shortstop had a great day. You've got to give him special credit,quot; La Russa said. quot;There were some outstanding plays. In fact, he made three of them today. In a one-run game, if he doesn't make all of them, who knows what the outcome is?quot;

quot;I think maybe I just got a chance to make some plays today and it just happened,quot; Ryan said.

Ryan's athletic ability is never disputed. Consistency is his issue. Monday's display reminded everyone of what he can be.

quot;He's got as much range as anyone in Baseball,quot; La Russa said. quot;He loves to make plays. He's very aggressive. He's one of those guys who'll make some extra errors. He goes after everything. You channel that every day and I think he can be an excellent defensive player.quot;

quot;When I played at Triple-A with him, there wasn't a better shortstop who played in front of me,quot; said second baseman Schumaker, who caught Ryan's act from the Memphis outfield.

Ankiel provided important insurance in the seventh inning when he slapped a two-out single to score Pineiro, who had walked, for a 3-1 lead.

The soft Georgia night offered a welcome respite from the 20 errors and 10 unearned runs that scarred the Cardinals' first 19 games. First baseman Albert Pujols twice saved Joe Thurston from errors by plucking short-hop throws. Pineiro helped himself further by walking none.

quot;I know it's a legitimate subject because we've got some errors,quot; La Russa said. quot;But day in and day out, we're making many, many more plays than we're missing. I thought they all got made today.quot;

Up next 6:10 tonight at Braves, FSM

Author:Fox Sports
Author's Website:
Added: April 28, 2009

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