Kyle McClellan and Edinson Volquez are both 2-0, but only one of them has looked convincing getting there.
The St. Louis Cardinals' decision to promote McClellan from the bullpen couldn't be working out much better, a string of success he'll look to continue in Friday night's opener of a three-game set against a shaky Volquez and the visiting Cincinnati Reds.
McClellan (2-0, 1.89 ERA) made 202 appearances - all in relief - with the Cardinals (10-9) from 2008 to 2010, but Adam Wainwright's elbow injury left a spot open in the rotation.
A 4-0 spring helped McClellan lock it down, and he's kept right on rolling. The right-hander's third quality start in as many outings came Saturday at Los Angeles, where he held the Dodgers to a run over seven innings in a 9-2 win.
"I felt good, the best I've felt yet this year - including spring training," he said. "I just felt at any time I could throw a strike whenever I wanted."
For a pitcher used to seeing hitters only once in a game, McClellan is getting better the more he faces a lineup. Opponents are hitting .320 against him the first time through the order, .261 the second time and .227 after that.
McClellan has a 2.95 ERA in 19 appearances against Cincinnati (10-9). Joey Votto and Ramon Hernandez, who had two hits apiece in the Reds' 7-4 win over Arizona on Thursday, have both homered off McClellan and are a combined 4 for 11 against him.
McClellan's issues the first time through the lineup are minor in comparison to what Volquez (2-0, 6.75) has experienced. Opponents are hitting .565 in their initial at_bats against Volquez, who in four starts has surrendered 17 runs - 13 in the first inning.
The 3-through-9 spots in the order are hitting .152 (9 for 59) against Volquez, but the Nos. 1 and 2 batters are 11 for 20.
He's surrendered back-to-back home runs to open a game twice in four starts, including Sunday to Pittsburgh's Andrew McCutchen and Jose Tabata.
"If we had the answer, it wouldn't happen," manager Dusty Baker said of Volquez's early troubles. "We've got to figure it out, because it taxes the bullpen and puts pressure on the team."
The Reds still managed to win his first three starts, though they lost 7-6 on Sunday as Volquez walked six and was charged with six runs over 5 2-3 innings.
"I think I'll be better the next time. I've got an idea," Volquez said. "Next time, I'll just throw my best fastball and say, 'Here, hit it.'"
Volquez is 1-1 with a 4.98 ERA in four starts versus St. Louis, walking 14 in 21 2-3 innings. He won't forget his lone start at Busch Stadium, leaving after one inning June 1, 2009, and going on to miss more than a year following reconstructive elbow surgery.
Albert Pujols is 3 for 7 with two homers and four walks versus Volquez.
Pujols is rolling after a slow start. He's hitting .351 with five homers and 10 RBIs in his last nine games, including a two-run shot in Thursday's 5-0 win over Washington.
Matt Holliday also homered, increasing his average to .538 in his last seven games.
"The ball is just jumping off his bat all over the place," manager Tony La Russa said of Holliday, who hit .483 with two homers and 12 RBIs in his last nine games versus Cincinnati.
The Cardinals, who took 12 of 18 from the NL Central champions last season, are 10-0-1 in their last 11 home series against the Reds.
The Associated Press News Service
The Associated Press
All Rights Reserved