ST. LOUIS -- The moment that many St. Louis Cardinals fans clamored for since Alex Reyes' callup from Triple-A Memphis on Aug. 9 will arrive Saturday night.
With veteran right-hander Mike Leake coming down with shingles, Reyes will step in and make his first major league start at Busch Stadium against the Oakland Athletics.
Regarded by many as the top pitching prospect in the minors before his promotion, Reyes has justified the hype in his first five big league appearances. In 9 1/3 innings, Reyes has allowed no runs and just five hits and four walks, striking out 13 with a fastball clocked as high as 101 mph.
He also picked up a win in his second outing against the Chicago Cubs as well as a save against Philadelphia, giving a boost to a bullpen that struggled over most of the previous two months.
"He's a top of the rotation talent," Cincinnati manager Bryan Price said of Reyes after he worked a 1-2-3 ninth in his major league debut on Aug. 9. "It looks like they have another good one."
The contrast between Saturday night's starters couldn't be more glaring. While Reyes relies on strikeouts, Oakland right-hander Zach Neal is your classic pitch to contact guy.
Of all major leaguers who have pitched at least 25 innings, Neal (2-3, 5.49 ERA) has the lowest walks-per-nine innings and strikeouts-per-nine innings, issuing just two walks and fanning only 14 in 39 innings.
Neal's issue has been keeping the ball from leaving the ballpark. He has yielded 47 hits, including seven homers, in 39 1/3 innings. It will be his fifth big league start after 10 relief appearances.
At 55-73, the A's season has essentially been reduced to contractual obligation and finding opportunities for youngsters in order to get an early start on 2017. One of those fresh-faced lads, third baseman Ryon Healy, is stamping himself as a keeper.
A fourth-inning single Friday night enabled Healy to stretch his hitting streak to 12 games, during which he has batted .400 (18-for-45). In his first 38 MLB games, Healy is hitting .281 with six homers and 17 RBIs.
"He's seeing every type of pitcher and he's making the adjustments," Oakland manager Bob Melvin said of Healy. "He's not scared at all. He's very respectful of his teammates and the game, but he's very tenacious."
St. Louis won Friday night's series opener 3-1, playing one of its cleanest games of the year a night after a sloppy 10-6 loss to the New York Mets. The Cardinals didn't commit an error and even manufactured an insurance run with smart baserunning, a feature they haven't often employed this year.
In upping its record to 68-59, St. Louis looked more like a playoff team -- it leads Miami by 1 1/2 games for the National League's second wild-card spot -- and less like a team simply trying to outslug everyone.
"It was a good, clean win," St. Louis manager Mike Matheny said. "It was good baseball all the way around. Just a good, solid game, the kind of game we like to see."