A brief demotion to the minors last month has done wonders for Chicago Cubs first baseman Frank Schwindel, who struggled mightily to start the season.

Schwindel looks to extend his upward trend when the Cubs continue a five-game, four-day series against the visiting St. Louis Cardinals on Friday.

The Cubs won the series opener, 7-5, on Thursday behind a strong performance from Schwindel, who hit a solo homer and doubled among his three hits.

The 29-year-old was sent to the minors on May 8 after hitting .209 through 25 games. Less than 24 hours later, he was back with the Cubs.

“I think I was putting a little too much pressure on myself early on to try and replicate that season that I had last year,” Schwindel said. “But it’s all part of baseball where it’s not always good. I think (the demotion) helped in a way to kind of polish off some things, and I’m trying to build off that from there.”

Schwindel is batting .267 (23-for-86) with five homers and 17 RBIs since May 11 for the Cubs, who have won three straight.

Chicago catcher Willson Contreras left in the eighth inning Thursday after being hit on the left ankle by a pitch from T.J. McFarland. However, X-rays were negative, and he could be available Friday.

St. Louis had its three-game winning streak snapped in the series opener, but first baseman Paul Goldschmidt doubled to extend his hitting streak to 24 games. The six-time All-Star has reached safely in a career-best 38 consecutive games.

With a doubleheader scheduled for Saturday, both teams are looking for lengthy outings from their starting pitchers on Friday.

Cardinals starter Miles Mikolas (3-3, 2.67 ERA) struggled in his most recent start, giving up six runs on nine hits over 5 2/3 innings in an 8-0 loss to the Milwaukee Brewers on Sunday.

Even after throwing a career-high 115 pitches against the Brewers, Mikolas said he still had plenty in the tank.

“I felt great,” Mikolas said. “The velocity on my fastball was still there. I’m in great shape, the best shape of my life. Could have thrown 130 pitches, I think. My high in Japan was 140. Threw like 150 in college. Everybody does that.”

The right-hander has received two or fewer runs of support in five of his 10 starts this season.

Mikolas, 33, owns a 3-2 record and 1.62 ERA in 11 career games (nine starts) against Chicago.

The Cubs will counter with Marcus Stroman (2-4, 3.95) on Friday. The right-hander received a no-decision after tossing seven scoreless innings against the Chicago White Sox on Sunday.

Stroman, 31, owns a 1.80 ERA in his past five starts after posting an 8.78 ERA in his first three outings this season. He said he is still looking to find his rhythm after missing two weeks due to COVID-19 last month.

“I feel like I’m someone who’s always going to go out there and compete regardless of how I feel,” Stroman said. “I just know I can be better. So that’s what’s frustrating is that I know that I can be better each and every time out. I’m just trying to get to that point.”

Corey Dickerson is 16-for-37 (.432) with two home runs against Stroman, who is 1-1 with a 2.65 ERA in three career starts against St. Louis.

–Field Level Media