Cardinals take opener of series versus Dodgers

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In a lineup with Matt Holliday, Carlos Beltran and Yadier Molina, it’s Allen Craig who has been chosen to hit cleanup of late. He showed why yet again Thursday, singling home the go-ahead run in the seventh as the Cardinals took the opener of a four-game series against the Dodgers 2-1.

Both the Cardinals and Dodgers had lost three straight entering the night, leaving St. Louis with the one-game edge as they battle for what will likely be one wild card spot. The Cardinals jumped further ahead in the competition thanks in part to a strong effort from All-Star Lance Lynn, who was filling in for the injured Jake Westbrook and making his first start since being bounced from the rotation last month.

Lynn allowed one run in six innings and struck out seven on the night. He and Josh Beckett pitched to a draw after Beckett allowed one run in 5 1/3 innings.

Beckett’s night will be better remembered for the single that wasn’t, as he was thrown out at first by Carlos Beltran on his hard shot into right field in the third inning.

The Dodgers got their only run on an Adrian Gonzalez single in the first. The Cards came right back and tied it in the top of the second on a Skip Schumaker single.

The Cardinals, who racked up 10 hits and five walks (two intentional), wasted several opportunities after that. They had 16 at-bats with runners in scoring position, yet only twice converted (though they had four hits; two of them didn’t score runs). Before Craig’s single in the seventh, the Cards got leadoff hitter Shane Robinson on via a walk from Paco Rodriguez in his third major league appearance. Instead of remaining patient, Jon Jay decided to sacrifice him along, only to pop up the bunt. Fortunately, Matt Carpenter singled afterwards and Craig delivered his hit with two outs.

For Craig, it was his 77th RBI in 102 games this season. He’s driven 37 runs in 47 games as a cleanup hitter. Obviously, that’s less than one-third of a season worth of action. However, it’s a better rate of driving in runs than Albert Pujols maintained in either of his last two seasons with St. Louis.

Reds ink Oliver Perez to a minor-league deal

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The Reds have signed free agent reliever Oliver Perez to a minor-league contract, the team announced Saturday. The deal comes with a major-league invite and could be worth $1.25 million if Perez secures a roster spot this spring, with an additional $500,000 in potential performance bonuses.

Perez, 36, is coming off of a two-year run with the Nationals. He produced a 4.64 ERA, 3.3 BB/9 an d10.6 SO/9 through 50 relief appearances and 33 innings with the club in 2017. The veteran lefty hasn’t kept an ERA under 4.00 in at least four seasons, but he continues to be undeniably solid against left-handed batters, holding them to a .227/.301/.364 batting line over 18 1/3 innings last year.

While returning southpaw Wandy Peralta appears to have locked down a bullpen spot already, Perez will still compete for another role against fellow left-handers Cody Reed and Amir Garrett, both of whom also have experience in the rotation. If Perez doesn’t break camp with the team, MLB.com’s Mark Sheldon notes, he’ll be permitted to opt out of his contract. The Reds are currently looking to bounce back from a dismal performance in 2017, one in which their bullpen ranked 28th among major league teams with a collective 5.63 ERA and -1.2 fWAR.