|Cardinals pitcher who overcame brain injury gets start at Reds|
By baseball standards, the road that Daniel Poncedeleon traveled to the major leagues this season -- from Triple-A Memphis to St. Louis -- is relatively short.
By any other measure, the route that Poncedeleon covered to make his first career start for the Cardinals on Monday night against the Cincinnati Reds at Great American Ball Park was incalculably long and perilously uncertain. There was no road map, no easily navigable thruway to get there.
Only 14 months after sustaining a life-threatening brain injury while being struck by a line drive in a Triple-A game, the right-hander will take the mound for the Cardinals in the first game of the three-game series.
Every rookie's debut creates a memory for life for that player, but this first game will be all the more remarkable because of what the 26-year-old Poncedeleon overcame to make it happen.
"Talk about a comeback story," Cardinals interim manager Mike Shildt said before a 7-2 St. Louis loss Sunday to the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field. "We're in the process of one here, so it's only fitting that maybe he's a part of that. But, independently of that, it's pretty special. ... It's a good story. It's a great story, actually."
Poncedeleon's 2017 season ended when he was struck in the head by a line drive off the bat of Iowa's Victor Caratini, who's now with the Cubs, last May 9. He needed emergency brain surgery and was hospitalized in Des Moines for three weeks before being allowed to travel to his Florida home to allow the brain swelling to subside and his head to fully heal.
But Poncedeleon certainly worked his way to the majors this season. He has been one of the Pacific Coast League's best starters, going 9-3 with a 2.15 ERA in 18 games, including 17 starts. He was called up by St. Louis earlier this season but didn't get into a game.
The Cardinals (50-49) could use a lift, whether it's from Poncedeleon or someone else. They fell into fourth place in the National League Central on Sunday by losing to the Cubs for the third time in the five-game series. St. Louis has dropped six of its last nine, even while replacing former manager Mike Matheny with Shildt in the process.
The Pittsburgh Pirates (51-49) moved a half game ahead of St. Louis in the division by beating the Reds 9-2 on Sunday, finishing a dominating three-game sweep in which they outscored Cincinnati 27-5.
The same old faces did the damage for the Pirates as Corey Dickerson went 4-for-5 with two RBIs, Gregory Polanco was 2-for-5 with three RBIs and Starling Marte and Sean Rodriguez each went 2-for-4, with all four homering off Matt Harvey (5-6).
Harvey has been the Reds' best starter for the last six weeks, but he gave up eight runs in 3 2/3 innings after not allowing more than two earned runs in his previous five starts.
"I think probably his fastball was missing his spots, and Pittsburgh is a hot club and they took advantage of it," Reds interim manager Jim Riggleman said. "It (the sweep) is disappointing, but it's a long season, and you're going to have some times when you're not hitting on all cylinders."
In the series, Dickerson was 8-for-16 with four homers, Marte was 5-for-15 with two homers and Rodriguez, who began the weekend with a .145 average, was 6-for-12 with two homers.
The Reds, who made their managerial change in April by replacing Bryan Price with Riggleman, have lost four in a row since winning 21 of 31 from June 10 until July 14, a stretch in which they went 6-1-1 in eight series.
To try to bounce back, Cincinnati will send right-hander Luis Castillo (5-8) to the mound for his fourth start already this season against St. Louis. He went 0-2 with a 5.63 ERA in the first three and is 0-3 against the Cardinals in four career starts. However, the Reds beat the Cardinals 8-2 in his last start against them on July 14, when he was lifted after five innings following a rain delay of nearly two hours.
Two Cardinals pitchers will make their first career starts during the three-game NL Central series.
With right-hander Carlos Martinez (oblique strain) on the 10-day disabled list, Austin Gomber (0-0), who has been used mostly as a lefty-on-lefty specialist, will start Tuesday night. He has a 3.77 ERA in 14 1/3 innings in 15 games this season.