PITTSBURGH — St. Louis, clawing to get into the playoffs and trying to improve to 6-1-1 in its most recent eight series, will turn to John Gant on Sunday.
Gant, a sinkerballer, will be making his first start as a Cardinal player and first in the majors this season when St. Louis (81-73) plays the rubber match of a three-game series against also-ran Pittsburgh (70-85) at PNC Park.
The Pirates did a little spoiling Saturday night with an 11-6 victory, breaking the Cardinals’ four-game winning streak and leaving them a half-game behind second-place Milwaukee and five behind the first-place Chicago Cubs in the National League Central.
The Cardinals are 1 1/2 games behind Colorado for the final NL wild-card spot.
Sunday will be St. Louis’ last road game of the regular season.
Gant (0-0, 3.86 ERA) earned the promotion to this start — with Jack Flaherty going to the bullpen — after three solid relief appearances.
“I’m just going to go make the start and do my best,” Gant told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “I’m not approaching it any different kind of way. I’m just going to go play baseball.
“I feel pretty loose. I feel comfortable going the distance — whatever that may be.”
Wednesday at Cincinnati, he pitched two scoreless innings in his most recent relief appearance.
“The ball’s coming out good and I’ve been making some good pitches,” the 25-year-old told the Post-Dispatch.
“It’s nice being here in the playoff push, but it’s still just baseball,” he said. “I’m here to take some pressure off some of the other guys by picking up some innings and to do whatever I’m asked to do. I want to contribute any way I can to help this team win and to find a way into the playoffs.”
Gant broke into the majors with Atlanta last season before being acquired by the Cardinals in the offseason for left-hander Jaime Garcia. He was recalled from Triple-A Memphis as part of the general roster expansion Sept. 1. His last start was Aug. 27 for Memphis, when he allowed three runs in 6 2/3 innings.
Against the Pirates, Gant is 0-0 with a 3.86 ERA in two career relief appearances.
Gant will square off against Pittsburgh right-hander and fellow 25-year-old Jameson Taillon (7-7, 4.73 ERA). Taillon has had an up-and-down season and it seemed to be showing the later in the season it got.
He is 2-5 with a 6.86 ERA since the All-Star break and hasn’t had a win since Aug. 11 at Toronto.
Then, earlier this month, he had his turn in the lineup skipped. That gave him a boost, even if the results weren’t great immediately.
In his first start after the 10-day layoff, Taillon allowed two runs in five-plus innings with six hits, one walk and four strikeouts.
“I actually thought I did pretty well, definitely an encouraging step in the right direction, which is what I’m looking for at the end of the year,” Taillon said.
“The season’s coming to a close. I’m just looking to trend in the right direction.”
Taillon is 0-1 with a 5.14 ERA in four career starts against St. Louis.