Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Leake looks to slow Bucs in Cardinals debut

A pair of pitchers coming off stellar springs will make their organizational debuts on Wednesday when the Cardinals and Pirates wrap up a three-game series at PNC Park. Pittsburgh is going for the sweep.
Mike Leake, the Cardinals' prized free-agent signee, has made more starts versus the Pirates (24) than against any other opponent in his career. He posted a 2.03 ERA against Pittsburgh in four starts last season and has won each of his last seven decisions against the division rival.
Leake allowed five earned runs over 20 spring innings in preparation for his first season as a Cardinal.
But while the Cardinals filled their offseason rotation void by making Leake the highest-paid free-agent pitcher in franchise history, the Pirates found their No. 3 starter in the bargain basket. What seemed a minor December signing when the Pirates inked Juan Nicasio to a one-year, $3 million deal may turn into one of the Hot Stove season's steals if Nicasio's spring showing is a harbinger of what's ahead.
Earmarked for a spot in the bullpen, Nicasio nudged his way into the Pirates' rotation while striking out 24 over 15 scoreless innings in Grapefruit League play. A mediocre starter for parts of four seasons with the Rockies and a reliever for the Dodgers last season, Nicasio is 1-2 with a 6.59 ERA in six career games (two starts) against St. Louis.
Things to know about the game
• Facing their first right-handed starter of the season, the Cardinals are expected to plug second baseman Kolten Wong back into the lineup. Wong didn't start on Tuesday as the Cardinals loaded their lineup with right-handed bats against lefty Jonathon Niese.
• David Freese (.500/.529/.813 in 17 plate appearances) has had notable success against Leake, though most of those matchups came when Leake pitched for Cincinnati and Freese played for St. Louis. On the other side of the spectrum is Gregory Polanco, who has a slash line of .125/.222/.125 in 18 plate appearances against Leake.
• Freese, facing his former club for the first time, tallied two hits in each of the first two games on the series.

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