The St. Louis Cardinals' rotation has the best ERA in baseball, and it's about to get back the pitcher who had quite a bit to do with that for the first five weeks of the season.
Jake Westbrook makes his first start in more than a month Friday night as the NL Central leaders visit the Miami Marlins for the first of three.Adam Wainwright lowered the St. Louis' starters ERA to 2.74 by throwing seven shutout innings in Thursday's 2-1 win at the New York Mets. Now, the Cardinals (43-23) are hoping Westbrook (2-1, 1.62 ERA) can seamlessly return to the rotation Friday after spending a month on the disabled list with right elbow inflammation.The right-hander had a 1.62 ERA through six starts prior to the injury, the best mark in the Cardinals' rotation and one of the best in the majors. Though his peripheral numbers aren't impressive -- Westbrook struck out 19 and walked 18 in 39.0 innings -- he didn't allow a homer and had a major league-best 76.5 percent ground-ball rate.He gave up two runs over 10 2/3 innings, walking none and striking out 10, in two rehab starts for Double-A Springfield."I've always had elbow issues and I pitched through a lot of it," Westbrook told MLB.com. "I think I'm always going to have something, some sort of feeling in there that's not normal."I feel really good right now. I feel really good with the two starts I've had. I feel really encouraged about getting up and down seven times on Sunday, and hopefully it continues to feel that way throughout the year."He and his teammates should feel quite comfortable on the road. The Cardinals, a major league-best 24-11 on the road, haven't lost a series outside St. Louis since dropping two of three to Arizona to open 2013.Westbrook went 0-1 with a 2.13 ERA in two starts against Miami last season when St. Louis won five of seven matchups. The Cardinals took three of four in Miami.After dropping two of three to Milwaukee, the Marlins (19-46) continue their six-game homestand with rookie right-hander Jose Fernandez (3-3, 3.17) on the mound.The 20-year-old Cuban gave up one run or fewer for the fourth time in seven starts by throwing six innings of one-run ball in Saturday's 2-1, 20-inning win at the New York Mets."I've really been trying to make pitches, make good pitches and make them in a good location -- that's how it's been," Fernandez told the Marlins' official website. "The catchers, they're calling the right pitches in the right moments, and it's been pretty good."Fernandez has been outstanding in five home starts, going 1-0 with a 1.55 ERA.Miami in batting .229 with a major league-worst 3.0 runs per game, but the club is hitting .266 and averaging 4.3 runs during a 6-5 stretch.Giancarlo Stanton and Logan Morrison could help the club continue its improvement at the plate. Stanton is 3 for 12 with a homer in three games since sitting out six weeks with a hamstring injury, while Morrison is 4 for 9 in three games following offseason right knee surgery.Morrison likely will return to the lineup after sitting out Wednesday's 10-1 loss.Left fielder Juan Pierre extended his season-best hitting streak to nine in that game, but he's 1 for 17 off Westbrook.David Freese should be back in the Cardinals' lineup after getting Thursday off. His career-best 20-game hitting streak, also the longest in the majors this season, ended Wednesday.Freese is a .464 (13 for 28) career hitter off Marlins pitching.St. Louis' Carlos Beltran, a career .333 hitter in Miami, will try to hit safely in his 13th consecutive game. He's batting .364 (20 for 55) with four homers and 13 RBIs during his run.
Left-handed batters are hitting .258 with a .745 OPS on average against right-handed pitchers this season. Part of what has made Marlins phenom Jose Fernandez so successful has been his ability to neutralize lefties as a righty pitcher - to the tune of a .208 BA and .609 OPS.