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Lewiston native Siegrist is key part of Cardinals bullpen

CLEVELAND – Kevin Siegrist’s career as a key member of the St. Louis Cardinals’ bullpen is back on track. The Lewiston native hopes he can say the same thing about his hometown sports teams soon enough, too.

Siegrist rocketed through the St. Louis chain in 2013, helping the Cardinals to the World Series as he posted a stunning 0.45 ERA, struck out 50 in 39∏ innings and led all big-league pitchers with a .128 batting average against. He appeared in four of the six games in the Fall Classic against Boston and nine postseason games overall.

But things went completely the opposite last season, as the left-hander battled nerve issues in his shoulder for a few months while his velocity dropped and his ERA ballooned to 6.82.

A big reason the Cardinals have the best record in baseball is because they have the lowest bullpen ERA in the National League at 1.71. Siegrist is again a major factor.

After throwing two more shutout innings and earning the win in Thursday’s 2-1 victory over the Indians in Progressive Field, Siegrist improved to 2-0 and dropped his ERA to 1.10.

Seventeen of his 18 appearances have been scoreless and the Cardinals aren’t using him as just a left-handed specialist; lefties are batting just .211 against him and righties are at just .229.

“I’ve felt good all year, working my tail off in the training room,” Siegrist said. “I know when I’m healthy I can execute my pitches against hitters on both sides of the plate.”

While Siegrist’s velocity isn’t in the upper 90s like it was in 2013, it’s consistently at 92-94 mph, and he’s still effective because he’s quickened his delivery to the plate and increased its deception.

“I definitely made some improvements on it,” he said. “I’ve quickened it up and that’s helped with my off-speed pitches. I’m a lot more confident with those than I’ve ever been.”

Siegrist, 25, was born in Buffalo, raised in Lewiston and lived there until his freshman year in high school when the family moved to Wellington, Fla., near West Palm Beach. He was a 41st-round draft pick of the Cardinals in 2008 and pitched at Class A Batavia in 2009 on his way up the ladder.

“He’s good,” said Cardinals manager Mike Matheny. “When we face a lineup like this with that many left-handers, Kevin and Randy Choate have to figure out a way to get it done.

“He’s a pretty tough assignment for lefties but watching how the ball is coming out of his hand, you’re seeing a little bit more life. He seems to be really finding a nice groove.”

Even though he left town for good more than 10 years ago, Siegrist’s allegiances still lie with the Sabres and Bills. They’re even regular talking points on his Twitter feed.

“O thats weird #Sabres pick second again not surprised thanks #NHLDraftLottery” tweeted Siegrist shortly after the April 18 decision that gave Edmonton the No. 1 pick in the June draft and the right to draft Connor McDavid, leaving the Sabres slotted at No. 2.

“Hasek up in the rafters where he belongs. #39 #TheDominator #bestever #Sabres” were his words on Jan. 13, when Dominik Hasek’s number was retired in First Niagara Center.

Some quick Siegrist thoughts on the hometown squads:

• On the Sabres season: “It was so tough. I watched as often as I could. Hopefully the changes they make will improve the club. I’m patient. You have to be. It’s the only way you can be.”

• On Jack Eichel: “I’ve heard great things about those top two guys. I like some of the things they did at times last year. They became a little bit more physical team. They can keep going that way and have better players too.”

• On Rex Ryan: “I like him a lot. I like the energy he brings. I’m excited about our defense. The team we had last year was close and bringing him in can really make this a fun season to watch. “

• On Ryan’s need to find a quarterback: “Well, that’s where we’ll really find out.”

Siegrist tries to catch Sabres games in Florida and attended the loss to the Panthers in February just before the trade deadline (“There was really no one there,” he said. “It was kind of like watching a game in the practice facility”). He also roots for the St. Louis Blues now that he plays for the Cardinals.

“The media here lets me know about the Sabres thing and some of the guys in here, too,” he said. “And there’s people on Twitter always going, ‘Why are you a Sabres fan?’ But I tell them, ‘I’m from Buffalo. That’s why.’ I like the Blues. It stinks they got taken out in the first round.”

While the Sabres and Bills continue to build, Siegrist is thrilled with his role in one of baseball’s top organizations. The Cardinals have been to four straight National League Championship Series and have played in four World Series since 2004. At 24-10, they’re heading that way again.

“This is something special in here,” Siegrist said. “It just never feels like we’re out of any game. There’s such belief. When we’re down, we feel like we can climb back in it. It’s just such a special feeling we have. I’m thankful to have never been in one of those situations like the Sabres. It’s got to be pretty tough. When we walk in here, we have a lot of fun. We’re expecting to win. You have to have a way different mindset. It’s got to be tough on those guys.”