The Cardinals didn't lose any ground in the National League Central race on Friday with their loss in the series opener to the Cubs and the Pirates' loss to the Rockies. But the sense of urgency has already been heightened in St. Louis.
"Every single day we have urgency," Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said. "That's just part of the consistent approach, regardless of the standings, regardless of how many we've won in a row or lost in a row. There's an urgency to win today, because this is really all we can take care of."
On Saturday, the Cardinals will try to keep up with the first-place Pirates, who they trail by four games entering Saturday, and even the three-game series with the Cubs at Busch Stadium. Michael Wacha joined the Cardinals on Friday and will make his fourth start of the season Saturday.
The 22-year-old right-hander was 1-0 with a 4.58 ERA in three starts with the Cardinals from May 30 to June 11. Since his demotion to Triple-A Memphis, he has posted a 3.51 ERA with 39 strikeouts and four walks in 33 1/3 innings over six starts.
"It's great being up here for those three starts," said Wacha of his first three career starts with St. Louis earlier this season. "It just pointed out some of my weakness while I was up here. It showed me what I really needed to work on and, you know, what I needed to I guess get better on down in Memphis. So I think I was able to work on quite a few of those things."
The Cardinals adjusted their rotation to have Wacha throw the middle game against the Cubs and give the rest of their starters an extra day of rest. Also, Adam Wainwright will get an extra three days off and will start the first game of a crucial three-game set against the Pirates on Tuesday.
The Cardinals have had rookie pitchers start 37 of 115 games this season (32 percent). Only the Brewers have had more rookies start games this year, six to the Cardinals' five -- Shelby Miller (22 starts), Tyler Lyons (seven), Wacha (four, including Saturday), John Gast (three) and Carlos Martinez (one).
The Cubs will counter with eight-year veteran Carlos Villanueva Saturday, who is searching for his first win since June 29. Villanueva allowed just one run in six innings against the Dodgers on Sunday, but the Cubs were shut out, so he took the loss. The 29-year-old right-hander has a 2-8 record and 4.16 ERA in 14 starts and 16 relief appearances this season.
"I feel much better about our pitching than I did a year ago," Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer said. "We have better arms than a year ago, and we have to keep doing that year after year after year. You look at what the Cardinals are doing, they're moving guys around. They bring in [Carlos] Martinez [Thursday] and [Michael] Wacha [Saturday], and we're not there by any stretch. We do have a lot more depth than we did a year ago."
Cubs: Navarro expected back Saturday, Guerrier done for season
The Cubs got good and bad news Saturday on the injury front. Catcher Dioner Navarro, who left Wednesday's game in Philadelphia after a collision at home plate, will return on Saturday, but reliever Matt Guerrier is done for the season.
Navarro was carted off the field Wednesday following a seventh-inning collision with Chase Utley. Navarro held on to the ball to record the out but left with a mild Grade 1 right ankle sprain. A stint on the disabled list is not necessary and he will return for Saturday's middle game against St. Louis.
Guerrier, on the other hand, pitched his final inning of the season in that same seventh inning in Philadelphia. The right-hander was examined in Chicago, and has a flexor mass in his right elbow. Hoyer said Guerrier appears to be headed toward surgery, but he will not need a Tommy John operation.
Cardinals: No timetable for Molina
Yadier Molina threw a few days ago and hit in the cage for the first time on Friday, and Matheny says his catcher is progressing well in his rehab back from a sprained right knee.
Molina is eligible to return from the disabled list next Thursday, but there is no timetable yet for his return.
"I think he's just gong to get kind of ramped up every day," said Matheny, who noted Molina has been going through an intensive running program with trainers. "It looks like he's answering every question we're giving him."
• Outfielder Shane Robinson begins a rehab assignment with Double-A Springfield this weekend as the club hosts Midland for a three-game series. Robinson is eligible to come off the disabled list next Thursday from a right shoulder strain.
• Villanueva is 5-4 with a 3.14 ERA in 28 career appearances against the Cardinals, including nine starts. Wacha has never faced the Cubs.
Kevin Massoth is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.