Rough outing by VerHagen opens up battle again to be Cardinals fifth starter

Jordan Hicks Rob Rains

By Rob Rains

JUPITER, Fla. – Drew VerHagen had hoped that a strong outing on Thursday night would leave him on the verge of locking up the open spot in the Cardinals’ rotation to start the season.

It didn’t work out that way.

VerHagen was roughed up by the Marlins, allowing a three-run double and a grand slam in Miami’s 7-4 victory.

In his three innings of work, VerHagen allowed seven hits, walked three and struck out four. The poor outing came after VerHagen, signed as a free agent after pitching the last two years in Japan, had allowed just two hits – both solo homers – in a combined five innings in his first two games this spring.

A walk to the ninth-place hitter, Miguel Rojas, came right before the bases-loaded double by Jorge Soler.

“That was a big one,” VerHagen said.”I was behind a lot of hitters tonight. It’s really hard to pitch like that. I made it hard on myself tonight.

“I’ve got to go after that guy (Rojas). That was the pivotal point and to walk him and bring up pretty much their best hitter, that was poor execution on my part.”

With just four games remaining on the shortened spring training schedule, it would appear the battle to be the fifth starter is wide open once again, with Jake Woodford and Matthew Liberatore moving back into the mix.

Manager Oli Marmol said the decision about who will be the fifth starter will be made more on the body of work for the spring, not just on the results of one game.

“It would have been good to see him go out there and dominate and have some presence to him and move from there, but it’s not one night (decision) one way or the other,” Marmol said.

Marmol said he expects to see VerHagen get another start before the team leaves Florida to head to St. Louis.

“It will be good to see how he responds to it,” Marmol said. “Knowing what we’ve seen to this point I have zero doubt that he will come back out and do what we think he’s capable of doing.”

Other news and notes from Thursday:

High: After going 3-of-3 with a home run and five RBIs on Wednesday, Paul DeJong had two hits, including a 3-run homer, on Thursday night as he raised his spring average to an even .500.

Low: VerHagen’s poor outing inflated his spring ERA to 10.13.

At the plate: The Cardinals had 11 hits but could only produce one run other than DeJong’s three-run homer. That came on a sacrifice fly by Andrew Knizner, who also had a double … They were just 2-of-12 with runners in scoring position, with one of the hits DeJong’s homer … Tyler O’Neill was the only other Cardinal with two hits.

On the mound: After VerHagen, the Cardinals got five innings of scoreless relief from the bullpen, allowing a combined one hit … Jordan Hicks pitched 1 1/3 innings with two strikeouts while Kodi Whitley and Ryan Helsley also pitched.

Off the field: Both Albert Pujols and Yadier Molina played in two minor-league games on Thursday, hoping back and forth between the games to get as many at-bats as they could. Marmol said each of them got seven at-bats on the day … Juan Yepez, who came into camp as the projected righthanded designated hitter, was was one of three players sent back to the minor-league camp on Thursday. Yepez was 5-of-20 for thr spring but lost his chance for playing time when the Cardinals signed Albert Pujols. Yepez said he was fine after having to leave Wednesday’s when he was hit by a pitch in the face … Also optioned to Memphis was catcher Ali Sanchez, while right-hander Jacob Bosiokovic was reassigned to the minor-league camp. After the game catcher Ivan Herrera also was optioned to Memphis. The moves left the Cardinals with 36 players on the spring roster.

Looking ahead: Dakota Hudson is the scheduled starter for Friday’s game against the Mets. With rain in the forecast, Woodford and Liberatore are scheduled to start in a morning intrasquad game.

Follow Rob Rains on Twitter @RobRains

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For the latest news and features in St. Louis Sports check out STLSportsPage.com. Rob Rains, Editor.