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STL@CIN: Wainwright fans nine over seven innings

PITTSBURGH -- On Saturday night, the Cardinals' No. 5 starter outdueled the Pirates' ace to even the weekend series. Roles will reverse in the rubber game of the three-game series on Sunday as Cardinals ace Adam Wainwright faces Edinson Volquez in his first start for Pittsburgh. First pitch is scheduled for 1:35 p.m. ET.

Wainwright can send the Cardinals on to their Busch Stadium opener with a winning road trip and a pair of series victories over division foes. He shut out the Reds over seven innings in an Opening Day victory that also became the right-hander's 100th career win. Aside from walking four, it looked like vintage Wainwright.

The Cardinals, though unwilling to overstate the importance of a two-and-a-half-week stretch in April, can continue to assert themselves in the National League Central, too, by opening the season strong. This is the second of five straight series against division opponents to begin the year.

"I like jumping right in and seeing these guys," Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said. "These are two teams that had a lot of battles last year and over the past several years. I guess when you have a lot of faith in yourselves, as we do, you're not afraid to get right out there and match up right from the start. One series isn't going to dictate how it all plays out. But we do realize that every chance we do get to go head-to-head, we do have an opportunity to make a statement and move closer to what all of our goals are."

Edinson Volquez has the chance to make a statement, too -- one that will further convince folks that he belongs. He was beat up early in spring, giving up 15 earned runs in his first 11 innings. Things have since settled down, with Volquez closing out Spring Training with three scoreless innings and then pitching another two in a relief stint on Wednesday.

After that performance, Volquez said it "will make me more comfortable to start, because I got my feet wet."

The Pirates used Volquez's relief appearance against the Cubs in place of having the right-hander throw a side session as he normally would a few days before a start. It will not have him limited with a pitch count on Sunday.

"We've seen the pitches improve throughout camp and into the season," Hurdle said. "His focus is good; he is a hungry man that wants to do well, and he's got a little edge to him because last year was hard for him. Nobody wants to be the weakest link. He has tasted success in the past, so he does know what it feels like."

Pirates: It could be Gaby Sanchez time
For much of Spring Training, Hurdle and team brass spoke confidently of Gaby Sanchez's ability to handle the bulk of games at first base, against both left- and right-handed pitching. But, then, Travis Ishikawa overcame a strained hamstring and hit well enough to earn a spot on the roster and prompt the Bucs to revisit a platoon arrangement.

Since then, the lefty-hitting Ishikawa has done even more than that, essentially winning an everyday job since the Pirates have not faced anything but right-handers. That does not change on Sunday, with Wainwright going in the series finale. However, the Pittsburgh lineup could change, with Sanchez expected to get his first start.

Although it would be the first time Sanchez played for Ishikawa, he has hit for him three times already, responding to pitching changes. Sanchez is 2-for-3 in that pinch-hitting role.

Choosing him over Ishikawa to face Wainwright would simply be choosing the lesser of two evils. Sanchez is 0-for-4 lifetime against the St. Louis ace. But Ishikawa is 0-for-5, with all five outs via strikeout.

Cardinals: Relief for the regulars?
With a day off sandwiched into the team's first road trip of the season, Matheny has found little opportunity to get his bench players involved. Thus far, the only reserve player to make a start has been Jon Jay -- and he's only made one.

That could change on Sunday.

With the short turnaround of having a day game after a night game, Matheny may look for an opportunity to rest some of his starters and give his bench players a boost in their efforts to stay sharp. Daniel Descalso, who hit .333 this spring, is 3-for-8 in his career against Volquez. The Cardinals left spring knowing they could struggle to figure out where playing time would come for Descalso this season.

"We know he's just a good ballplayer," Matheny said. "He just needs to continue to work hard and prepare and be the professional that he's always been without trying to play too much forecaster to see what's going to happen. It's a different set of circumstances this year."

Worth Noting:
• Following Sunday's series finale, the Cardinals and Pirates are scheduled to meet another 16 times this season. They'll play next in St. Louis April 25-27.

• With his two RBIs in this series, Pirates center fielder Andrew McCutchen tied Jack Wilson for second place on the all-time career RBI list at PNC Park. With 201 RBIs at his home ballpark, McCutchen trails franchise leader Jason Bay by 40.

• Since 2000, the Cardinals have the best March/April winning percentage (.587) of any team in the NL.

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