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St. Louis right-hander Miles Mikolas is set to return from arm injuries to start Friday when the Cardinals face the visiting Pittsburgh Pirates in the opener of the three-game series.

Mikolas missed the 2020 season after undergoing surgery on the flexor tendon in his right arm. He experienced shoulder soreness while rebuilding arm strength, then his forearm soreness returned.

Mikolas (0-0, 2.25 ERA) has pitched just once this season, on May 22 against the Chicago Cubs. He allowed one run on four hits in four innings.

He shut down again after that outing, then rebuilt his arm strength with five minor league rehabilitation starts.

“No one wants to be hurt, and it’s been a tough road back, you know, longer than anyone wants to be out of commission, but it feels great to be back and I’ve had tons of fun,” Mikolas said. “I feel like I’m ready.”

The Cardinals will welcome him back after losing starting pitchers Kwang-Hyun Kim and Wade LeBlanc to elbow injuries.

Mikolas will try to fill the fifth starter role as the Cardinals attempt to tighten the National League wild-card race. They moved within 3 1/2 games of the San Diego Padres for the second slot thanks to an 8-4 victory over the Milwaukee Brewers on Thursday night.

St. Louis has won seven of its past nine games, though it dropped two of three to Milwaukee.

“Late August, it really gets rolling in September when it’s crunch time,” Cardinals outfielder Tyler O’Neill told Bally Sports Midwest. “We know every game counts, so we’re showing up to the park with an attitude to win. We’re the Cardinals. That’s what we do. We’re going to continue to do that.”

Mikolas finished 18-4 with a 2.83 ERA in 2018, but he struggled in 2019 (9-14, 4.16 ERA) as arm trouble set in.

He is 4-3 with a 3.06 ERA in 13 career appearances against the Pirates, including 11 starts. Bryan Reynolds (6-for-14), Wilmer Difo (2-for-6) and Gregory Polanco (4-for-15, homer, three RBIs) have had success against him but Kevin Newman (2-for-14) and Jacob Stallings (1-for-6) have not.

The Pirates carry a five-game losing streak into the series. During that span, they scored just five runs against the Brewers and the Los Angeles Dodgers.

“The last two series we’ve played, we’ve played probably two of the three best teams in the National League,” Pirates manager Derek Shelton said. “When you get behind, and we don’t score a lot of runs anyway, it’s very challenging because it takes out our ability to be aggressive, to do different things — whether we’re going to run or we’re going to hit-and-run or we’re going to get guys moving.”

Overall, the Pirates have lost 13 of their past 14 games and 15 of their last 17. They are 3-9 against the Cardinals this season.

Pittsburgh will give the series-opening start to Mitch Keller (3-10, 6.86 ERA), who is 0-3 with 6.28 ERA in three starts since his recall from Triple-A Indianapolis.

He is 1-0 with a 0.82 ERA in two career starts against the Cardinals, both of them last season. Current St. Louis players are a combined 1-for-24 against Keller.

–Field Level Media