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Rookie pitchers clash as Cardinals face Reds

ST. LOUIS -- When the Reds and St. Louis Cardinals ran into each other on the season's first weekend in early April at Busch Stadium, Cincinnati left-hander Amir Garrett tossed six shutout innings for a win in his major league debut.

Luke Weaver was down at Triple-A Memphis, trying to prove to St. Louis that he could learn what he had to in order to come back to the majors and make more of an impact than he did late last year.

On Thursday, when the Reds and Cardinals close out their three-game series, the paths of Weaver and Garrett will intersect on the Busch Stadium pitching mound. Only now the script has been flipped.

Garrett is attempting to show Cincinnati that he can be part of its 2018 plans. Weaver is suddenly one of the hottest pitchers in baseball and partly responsible for St. Louis being in a playoff race.

Garrett (3-7, 7.39 ERA) mostly has been pounded since that magical beginning, winding up at Triple-A Louisville for a spell before returning to Cincinnati. He is back in the rotation for the season's remainder, one of four rookies sandwiching veteran Homer Bailey.

Garrett's last outing occurred Friday night, a 5-1 loss to the New York Mets at Citi Field. He allowed three homers during his five innings, as well as four runs and a pair of walks. Throw out his debut game in St. Louis and Garrett has permitted a whopping 22 homers in 57 1/3 innings.

For the Reds (63-83) to win this one, Garrett has to resemble the pitcher he was on that cool April night and not the one who's been turning his head often to watch the ball leave the yard.

"We're a little vulnerable if our starter doesn't go at least five innings," Cincinnati manager Bryan Price said. "We really don't have an established major league bullpen without (Drew) Storen, without (Wandy) Peralta."

As for Weaver (5-1, 2.16 ERA), he has won four consecutive starts, yielding only four runs in 25 1/3 innings and fanning 36 hitters. In his 4-1 win over the Pittsburgh Pirates on Friday night, Weaver scattered seven singles over 5 2/3 scoreless innings, whiffing seven.

"I had a little more movement on my fastball than usual," he said. "A few of them were leaking out over the plate, so I had to make an adjustment and just trust the movement."

This is not the same tentative youngster who in his only career outing against the Reds last September was torched for five runs in a relief role while recording only two outs.

The Cardinals (76-69) need Weaver to keep being who he has been for the past month-plus. Their 6-0 loss Wednesday night to Cincinnati dropped them into third place in the National League Central, three games behind the first place Chicago Cubs and a half-game in back of the Milwaukee Brewers.

St. Louis has seven games left with Chicago, three coming this weekend under the sunshine at Wrigley Field. However, the Cardinals are 4-8 against the Cubs overall and 1-5 on Chicago's north side.

St. Louis sits 3 1/2 games back of the Colorado Rockies in the race for the second NL wild card.