MIAMI—Daniel Ponce de Leon probably wasn’t the trendy pick to become the first Cardinals starter to last past five innings this season, in part because he is in the rotation due to others being hurt. And, in larger part, because he has had trouble commanding counts.
Adopting a strategy of throwing almost entirely four-seam fastballs ranging from 91 to 93 mph Monday night, Ponce de Leon not only controlled counts, he controlled the Miami Marlins for five innings Monday night at loanDepot Park in a 4-1 Cardinals victory.
Facing a Marlins team he had pitched almost exclusively against in spring training when he walked seven in 12 2/3 innings over four games, Ponce de Leon walked nobody in the first four frames Monday although he grazed Starling Marte’s shirt twice, allowing the Mrlins’ center fielder to reach base.
Finally, he walked a hitter, Miguel Rojas, to lead off the fifth and a bunt single by speedy former Cardinal Magneuris Sierra—third baseman Nolan Arenado hoped to make a play at second but nobody was at the bag--and a couple of deep fly balls to the outfield led to a run. But Ponce de Leon, while he came out of the game, at least was the first Cardinals starter to pitch five and leave with the lead in the season’s first four games.
Pitching to the dimensions of a big ball park, Ponce de Leon recorded seven of his 15 outs on fly outs, some deeper than others, but outs nonetheless and he became the first Cardinals starter to record a win as the Cardinals before a crowd of 4,605 heavily stocked with Cardinals fans.
Ponce de Leon, holding the Marlins to three hits, fired 93 pitches, highest by a Cardinal starter this season, with 57 strikes, a decent percentage for him.
On Miami lefthander Trevor Rogers’ 25th pitch of the first inning—only nine of the first 24 had been strikes—Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina leaned into a changeup and created a little bit of history.
The Cardinals, thanks to three Rogers walks, a wild pitch and a passed ball by frustrated catcher Jorge Alfaro, already had been gifted a 1-0 lead when Molina batted with runners at second and third and two outs after a Tyler O’Neill strikeout.
Molina ripped Rogers’ first pitch to him over the head of center fielder Marte and off the wall for a two-run double and a 3-0 lead. The double put him into eighth place in major league annals for two-base hits by catchers, passing no less than Hall of Famer Johnny Bench at No. 382.
Rogers finally exited the first inning, having thrown 18 strikes out of 38 offerings. He would find himself thereafter, throwing 28 strikes out of his final 39 pitches but it was too late for him as he left after four.
Righthander John Curtiss, who had been warming up as early in the first, entered in the fifth for the Marlins and immediately was touched for a leadoff homer by leadoff man Tommy Edman, who lofted a 2-2 slider over the right-field wall for a 4-0 Cardinals lead.
Cardinals reliever Jordan Hicks, throwing his sinker at 100.3 mph, sailed through the sixth without incident and Giovanny Gallegos whipped through a perfect seventh and scoreless eighth, allowing just a two-out single by Jesus Aguilar in the eighth and striking out two.
Alex Reyes posted the save with a scoreless ninth and the Cardinals were even for the season at 2-2.
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