John Gant has turned from occasional spot starter to fixture in the St. Louis Cardinals' rotation. Now he needs to bounce back from his first bad start in six weeks.
The right-hander gets the ball Friday night when St. Louis opens its last homestand of the regular season against the San Francisco Giants in Busch Stadium.
After seven consecutive starts in which he had allowed no more than two earned runs while posting a 4-1 record and knocking his ERA down by nearly a full run, Gant was rocked in a 17-4 loss Saturday by the Los Angeles Dodgers.
In 4 1/3 innings, Gant (7-6, 3.53 ERA) yielded six hits and six runs, issuing four walks and fanning four. Free passes have been his only real weakness during his solid stretch, as he has walked 18 in his last five starts covering 28 innings.
"I just have to come out and bear down harder than that," Gant said to mlb.com after losing to Los Angeles. "I can't be walking those guys in that situation. I've got to be better for the team right there."
Gant will make his fourth career appearance against San Francisco and his second as a starter. He's 0-0 in 10 innings with a 2.70 ERA.In his only start against the Giants this season, Gant gave up two runs, five hits and three walks over six innings, but did not get a decision in the Cardinals' 3-2 loss.
The Cardinals (84-69) can't afford another short start from Gant, not with their postseason lives at stake. They start the weekend 1 1/2 games ahead of Colorado for the National League's second wild-card spot and three games behind Milwaukee for the top wild-card position.
St. Louis is also 5 1/2 games behind the Chicago Cubs for first place in the NL Central but could put itself into position to challenge for the division title with some help. St. Louis closes the regular season next weekend with three games at Wrigley Field.
St. Louis could have edged closer to Chicago on Wednesday but dropped a 7-3 decision in Atlanta. Still, manager Mike Shildt was pleased by taking two of three from the NL East leaders on their field.
"If we win series, we'll be fine," he said to mlb.com. "Two out of three against a club leading their division? We feel pretty good about it."
While St. Louis is trying to return to the playoffs for the first time since 2015, the Giants (72-81) are playing out a few weeks' worth of string after fading from contention in August. All they can do is ruin others' hopes.
In Madison Bumgarner (6-6, 3.14), San Francisco has a pitcher who is known for breaking hearts late in the season. The left-hander, who's finishing his second straight injury-shortened season, is coming off a 3-0 win Saturday over Colorado that saw him fire six shutout innings, allowing five hits and a walk with two strikeouts.
This will be Bumgarner's first start in St. Louis since the 2014 NLCS, when he did what he does best in October -- deal. He tossed 7 2/3 scoreless innings in Game 1, notching a 3-0 win that started the Giants on the way to a 4-1 series victory.
Bumgarner is 4-5 with a 4.61 ERA in nine regular-season starts against the Cardinals. He has started one game against St. Louis this season, allowing four runs on seven hits in 5 1/3 innings, but getting the win in the Giants' 13-8 victory on July 8.