Liriano makes it tough on Wong, Cardinals

Liriano makes it tough on Wong, Cardinals

PITTSBURGH -- Aware of who the Pirates intended to pitch on Sunday well in advance of Opening Day, manager Mike Matheny began piecing together an optimal lineup before his club wrapped up Spring Training. He'll never know what success it may have had.

An injury to Ruben Tejada on Thursday coupled with Tommy Pham's early exit complicated the look of the lineup against Pittsburgh Francisco Liriano, who has long given the Cardinals fits. He added another to the list on Sunday by opening the Major League season with six shutout innings and 10 strikeouts in a 4-1 Pirates victory.

"Same guy we've seen before. This isn't any shocker," Matheny said of Liriano, now 6-2 with a 2.40 ERA in 13 career starts against St. Louis. "He has a lot of movement. That's his deal. You either get him early, or he's going to be tough to get late."

The intent was to stack Sunday's lineup with righties, a plan that took a hit last week when Tejada suffered a quad injury. That meant that the Cardinals could no longer sub out the left-handed-hitting Kolten Wong for Jedd Gyorko, because they needed Gyorko at short.

Pham's insertion into the lineup's second spot gave the Cardinals a right-handed bat for only two innings, as he had to leave due to an oblique injury. The left-handed-hitting Matt Adams replaced him and finished 0-for-4 with two strikeouts.

Repeatedly, run-scoring opportunities found Wong, 4-for-19 in his career against Liriano. He struck out with the bases full to end the fourth and popped out with one out and the bases loaded in the sixth. That inning then ended unproductively with Gyorko grounding out.

"For a lefty, it's hard, because the guy throws mid-90s [mph] and he has that sweet slider, where you literally can't see spin," Wong said. "You're basically up there trying to figure out if I can pick up anything that's going to show me that spin. Today was tough, because he didn't give you a chance to see it. When he throws the slider that hard, determining whether it's going to be a slider or a fastball is slim-to-none."

It was with these sort of left-on-left matchups in mind that the Cardinals pursued Gyorko over the winter. The idea was to bring in a right-handed-hitting infielder who could spell Wong on days against the league's best lefties. With Gyorko now the everyday shortstop, that luxury is gone.

Wong entered the season with a career .248/.282/.325 slash line against left-handed pitchers.

"He's just going to have days like that where we're going to need him to play," Matheny said, "and he's going to have to grind his way through it."

The Cardinals struck out a total of 14 times, which stalled other scoring opportunities as well. It marked the fourth straight Opening Day in which the club tallied at least nine strikeouts.

Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, By Gosh, It's Langosch, follow her on Twitter @LangoschMLB and like her Facebook page Jenifer Langosch for Cardinals.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.