SAN DIEGO (AP) — After three seasons in Japan, pitcher Miles Mikolas is making a strong first impression with the St. Louis Cardinals.
“He’s performing at an All-Star-caliber level right now,” teammate Tommy Pham said.
Mikolas won his fifth straight decision to begin the season and Pham homered in his return from a groin injury, sending the Cardinals past the San Diego Padres 2-1 on Thursday night.
Mikolas (5-0) allowed one run in 6 2/3 innings against his former team, lowering his ERA to 2.51. The right-hander had never faced the Padres, who drafted him in 2009 and used him as a reliever from 2012-13.
And though Mikolas issued his first walk in three games, he allowed fewer than three runs for the fourth consecutive start.
“He did exactly what we needed him to do,” Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said.
Bud Norris earned his eighth save, and the NL Central leaders opened a six-game trip with their sixth victory in eight games.
Padres cleanup man Franchy Cordero had three of the five hits against Mikolas.
A home run by Raffy Lopez chased Mikolas in the seventh and was the only extra-base hit against him.
“It was just another very good game from Miles,” Matheny said.
In 27 outings with San Diego, all in relief, Mikolas had a 3.44 ERA.
He was better known then for having eaten a live lizard, on a dare, as a Padres minor leaguer. The moment, which was posted on YouTube, earned Mikolas the nickname Lizard King.
After he was traded twice, the Texas Rangers tried him as a starter. He had a 6.44 ERA in 10 outings.
Mikolas decided he needed to go where he could pitch with a longer leash. He joined the Yomiuri Giants and reported improved command after returning to the United States and signing with the Cardinals to partner with former Rangers pitching coach Mike Maddux.
Against the Padres, the right-hander’s repertoire included a mid-90s (mph) fastball, a changeup, a split-finger changeup, a hard curveball, a rare slow curve and one quick-pitch delivery.
“I tried to sneak some things in there,” Mikolas said.
He said the curveballs lacked the “snap” he wanted, but he “kind of made up for it by locating my fastball.”
Mikolas said much of his success was owed to the team’s defense.
Pham, who had missed four games, singled and scored in the first inning on Jose Martinez’s sacrifice fly and homered in the fifth for the Cardinals’ only extra-base hit. Both hits came against Jordan Lyles (0-1).
“I’m still working on getting to where I was,” the center fielder and leadoff man said.
Jordan Hicks got the final out of the seventh and Greg Holland worked a scoreless eighth.
Cardinals left fielder Marcell Ozuna aided Mikolas in the fourth by throwing out Jose Pirela trying to stretch a single off the left-field wall.
After each of Cordero’s singles, Mikolas retired Chase Headley, once on a double-play grounder.
The Padres took on Headley and his $13 million salary last offseason so they could get pitching prospect Bryan Mitchell in the same trade with the New York Yankees. Mitchell was recently demoted to the bullpen after compiling a 6.47 ERA in seven starts.
Lyles, swapping roles with Mitchell, got the start Thursday and worked five innings. He allowed five hits.
“I was thrilled with Jordan,” Padres manager Andy Green said.
Pham’s sixth home run, off a hanging breaking ball in the fifth, was a 371-foot line drive over the left-field wall.
Cardinals: Placed ace Carlos Martinez on the 10-day disabled list because of a strained lat. The right-hander leads the National League with a 1.62 ERA. RHP Mike Mayers was recalled from Triple-A Memphis.
Padres: San Diego catcher Austin Hedges was sent to Los Angeles for tests on his throwing elbow.
Cardinals: RHP Luke Weaver (2-2, 5.50 ERA) has given up at least four runs in each of his last four starts.
Padres: LHP Eric Lauer (1-1, 5.79) will make his fourth career start. Last time out, he earned his first win with six scoreless innings against the Dodgers in Mexico.