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Jun 25, 2024 8:07 am

Willson Contreras, Cardinals chase another win over Braves

Willson Contreras, Cardinals

After catcher Willson Contreras sustained a broken left forearm on May 7, the St. Louis Cardinals didn’t expect him back until mid-July.

However, he returned to the Cardinals for the start of their three-game series with the Atlanta Braves, which will continue Tuesday night in St. Louis. The Cardinals won the opener 4-3 on Monday for their fourth victory in a row.

Contreras, who was hitting .280 with a .950 OPS when he was injured, contributed an RBI single in his return from a 40-game absence.

“The energy that he brings when he rounds first, it’s just his overall competitiveness, guys feed off of that,” Cardinals manager Oliver Marmol said. “I mean, you can hear it in the dugout as soon as he gets that hit. Things have been going well, and you add somebody like Willson to the mix, man, it’s a heck of a lot of fun, it really is.”

After resuming baseball activities on June 7, Contreras was determined to beat his projected timetable.

“It bothered me when a lot of people said that I was going to miss a couple of months or two, three months,” Contreras said. “I was like, ‘Hell no. I’m not going to miss two, three months.’ But yes, I like to be challenged.”

The Cardinals are planning for another return on Tuesday. Right-hander Kyle Gibson (5-2, 3.44 ERA) is set to rejoin the rotation after missing his previous scheduled turn because of back stiffness.

“I don’t know that I’ve ever had it happen like this in my entire career,” Gibson said after he was scratched pregame on Wednesday. “I did our advance meeting. I felt really good. At 11:30 (a.m.), I was still doing my stretching, and I did something during stretching to just aggravate the left hip. By the time it was 10 minutes later, I was in the trainer’s room, and I couldn’t bend down to touch my toes.”

In his most recent outing, Gibson blanked the Chicago Cubs for seven innings on two hits during a 3-0 victory on June 14. He is 2-1 with a 4.91 ERA in five career starts against Atlanta.

The Braves will counter with right-hander Reynaldo Lopez (5-2, 1.57 ERA), who threw a combined 11 scoreless innings in victories over the Baltimore Orioles and Detroit Tigers in his past two outings. Lopez struck out 14 in that span while allowing nine hits and two walks.

After spending the bulk of the previous three seasons in a relief role, Lopez has allowed two earned runs or less in all but one of his 13 starts this season.

Lopez has faced the Cardinals only once, a scoreless one-inning relief appearance on July 8, 2023.

The Braves have 20 homers in their last 10 games after hitting just 15 homers in the previous 20 contests.

“I think we’re playing more to our capabilities,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said after Atlanta won a weekend series over the New York Yankees. “Quite honestly, I still don’t think we’re hitting on all cylinders.”

That was the case on Monday. Austin Riley hit his fifth homer in 10 games, but Marcell Ozuna and Ozzie Albies just missed hitting home runs with long fly balls to the outfield wall.

The Braves threatened in the eighth inning before staging a ninth-inning rally, scoring twice against Cardinals closer Ryan Helsley before coming up just short. They suffered just their third loss in 11 games.

“A lot of positives to take away from the eighth and ninth with having good at-bats,” Riley said. “I feel like early on in the season, we weren’t really doing that, and now we are.”

Playing in the 90-degree heat, Braves shortstop Orlando Arcia exited Monday’s game in the sixth inning due to dizziness.

Cardinals third baseman Nolan Arenado has missed the past two games because of nerve irritation in his left forearm. In his absence, Brandon Crawford has been playing third base for the first time in his career.

–Field Level Media

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