Mujica's clean inning a bright spot in Game 2
Cardinals reliever hopes to leave September struggles behind
PITTSBURGH -- In a mostly forgettable 7-1 loss to the Pirates in Game 2 of the National League Division Series on Friday, the Cardinals singled out Edward Mujica's performance as something to remember -- and, they hope, something to build on.
In his first appearance of the postseason, Mujica pitched a quick and clean ninth inning. He retired the side in order on five pitches, marking the first time Mujica had pitched a hitless full inning since Aug. 26.
"We needed him to throw a clean inning," manager Mike Matheny said. "[It] was nice to see the kind of swings he had. That's the kind of swings he's had against [him] all season long. He's had such a strong year. It was something we were hoping to be able to get him out there and feel good about himself, because we don't know how [his role] is going to play out moving forward."
Mujica, too, was encouraged by his performance, but was particularly pleased by the results he got when throwing his rarely-used slider. Twice, catcher Yadier Molina called for a first-pitch slider; both times, it induced an out.
According to Fangraphs, Mujica threw his slider just 4.4 percent of the time this season. Not since 2009 has he cracked the 10 percent threshold. But with Mujica's split-changeup running flat for much of September, the implementation of another pitch could help him keep hitters from waiting on the changeup.
"I think they got a little bit surprised," Mujica said. "New weapon."
The Cardinals are still feeling their way through finding the right spots to use Mujica, who was scored upon in six of his 10 September appearances. Certainly, they would like to work their former closer back into a key role, but he will have to continue to prove he is ready for that before such opportunities arise.
"September is gone. October is here," Mujica said. "I've cleared my mind and have prepared myself physically and mentally to pitch in October."
Slugger Adams opening eyes with his glove
PITTSBURGH -- With the body of an offensive lineman and a powerful swing that socked homers at an astounding rate down the stretch, Matt Adams might be seen by many through a one-dimensional lens.
But to anyone watching him pick Neil Walker's sharp one-hopper in the third inning Friday, along with a few other solid plays in the first two games of the National League Division Series, it's clear the Cardinals' hulking first baseman has been working toward being more than just a big bat.
"It's good to be able to make those plays," Adams said. "It's sweet, because we have such a great coach in [third-base coach Jose] Oquendo. He's the one who's really helped me get to the next level."
Adams hopes his work over the past couple of years continues to pay off as he subs for injured All-Star Allen Craig. He might still be a work in progress, but the progress is visible.
"When I first got drafted, the biggest thing was getting my hands ready, because I was a catcher and obviously didn't take a lot of ground balls in college," Adams said. "But then I really started up with footwork drills to get my feet faster, and I kept working on that the next couple of years.
"I know when my feet are right, my hands are going to be in the right spot."
Plus, Adams knows he's not alone out on the field. He's got Oquendo helping him with his every move, and he can follow the lead of one of the game's top catchers in Yadier Molina.
That's how Adams can make a pick like he did in Game 2, when he robbed Walker of extra bases.
"That one, I paid attention to Yadi and saw him moving inside, and Jose told me to come toward the line a little bit," Adams said. "He got around on that cutter and pulled it pretty good, and I was in the right spot."
Cards' Miller getting used to new role in 'pen
PITTSBURGH -- Manager Mike Matheny had a decision to make when putting together his rotation for the National League Division Series. When Lance Lynn's experience got the nod over rookie Shelby Miller, that pushed the 22-year-old right-hander to the bullpen.
After a season that saw Miller make 31 starts and throw 173 1/3 innings, the change in routine has taken some getting used to.
"It's different, but my job is to pitch out of the bullpen," Miller said. "I've accepted the role and want to help the team win."
Miller appeared in Game 2 of the NLDS, allowing a solo homer by Starling Marte in the Cardinals' 7-1 loss to the Pirates. He knows he needs to be back and ready to go should the need arise in Game 3 on Sunday, a bit of a departure from his routine as a member of the St. Louis rotation.
"That's the biggest adjustment, pitching back-to-back days," Miller said. "I won't be out there for a long time, pitching in shorter stints, unless something happens and I have to pitch long relief. I haven't been told what my role is exactly. I just have to make sure I'm ready."
Miller hasn't fared too well against the Pirates during an otherwise outstanding season that should garner at least a few Rookie of the Year votes. He went 0-4 with a 5.32 ERA in his four starts against Pittsburgh, allowing 29 hits in 22 innings. His last outing against his division rivals, coming at PNC Park on Aug. 31, was his worst of the four; he allowed five runs on eight hits in just 4 1/3 innings. It's quite possible that track record figured into the decision-making process of who to start and who to push into the bullpen.
"I'm sure they had some history," Miller said. "The other four guys starting are unbelievable pitchers. I can't be upset. We believe in all of them."
Hindsight obviously can alter perspective, with Lynn's poor performance in Game 2 leading many to think Miller should have gotten the ball instead. Miller isn't going to go there, instead preparing for the immediacy of adjusting to being a relief pitcher, at least for the time being.
Miller sees it as a step in the right direction, considering he didn't start the 2012 postseason on the active roster. He was added to replace an injured Jaime Garcia, appearing in two games during the NL Championship Series in relief, an experience he could draw from during this postseason run.
"It's not my call, there's nothing I can do about it, but I'm not upset," Miller said. "I might start in the next series, but I have to accept [my role]. I'm just happy I'm on the roster. Last year, I wasn't really on the roster."
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, By Gosh, It's Langosch, and follow her on Twitter @LangoschMLB. Jonathan Mayo is a reporter for MLB.com and writes a blog, B3. Follow @JonathanMayoB3 on Twitter. John Schlegel is a national reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.