LOS ANGELES • Looking for a jolt to an offense that has been frustrated most of the season, the Cardinals are sending a message, making a move and delivering a promise all in one transaction this afternoon.
Oscar Taveras is returning to the majors.
He’s going to play.
The Cardinals promoted Taveras on Monday morning and he will join the team in San Francisco. Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak told the Post-Dispatch in mid-June that he wanted to give the team and its established hitters a chance to show the production they had in the past, but that by the start of the July he wanted to have a sense of the team and its true offensive ability.
July is nigh. Taveras is coming.
To make room on the active roster for Taveras, the Cardinals optioned reliever Jorge Rondon. The Cardinals are returning to a 12-man pitching staff.
Taveras, who turned 22 this month, was hitting .318 with a .370 on-base percentage and a .502 slugging percentage at Memphis. He’s considered one of the best hitting prospects in all of the minors, and the Cardinals have openly called him their best hitting prospect since Albert Pujols.
In an 11-game stint in the majors a few weeks ago, Taveras hit .189 with a homer and two RBIs. His stats did not reveal how well he adjusted to major-league pitching, and the small sample size was misleading.
Taveras can play both corner outfield positions, and he has appeared in the minors in center field. The Cardinals can carve out playing time for Taveras by placing him in a rotation with Allen Craig and Matt Adams. Taveras would start in right field and the other hitter could start at first base.
“I don’t think this is going to be exactly like we saw before where it was 'here you go, play,'” Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said this afternoon. “But we’re going to have to find him some considerable playing time. … He doesn’t have a whole lot more to prove there. He’s done what he’s needed to do (in Memphis), and we have to figure out how he fits with us.
“He can bolster our offense. And we can find him time.”
Matheny said that Taveras will go into a time-share situation in right field, and the manager likened the situation to how the team handled Adams a year ago. There will be starts for him, and on the days he does start, there will be a productive bat off the bench in Craig or Adams.
Matheny said center field also is an option for Taveras if “things line up right.” The major-league team had been reluctant to start Taveras in center before.
That will have to be considered, Matheny said.
“We’re going to share it around,” he said.
Taveras started in right field for 10 of the 11 games that he appeared in for the Cardinals, most of them coming during interleague play when the Cardinals could add an extra batter to the lineup with the designated hitter in play. The lefthanded-hitting prospect homered in his first game — against San Francisco on May 31.
He went seven-for-37 overall with seven strikeouts and two walks.
“A lot of this is going to come down to throwing him in some opportunities, but he’s going to have to produce," Matheny said. "And if he produces, just like any of the other guys, you keep swinging it right, you’re going to have the opportunities.”
At the time of his demotion to Class AAA Memphis, the Cardinals said that he had to make some fixes in his swing. They lauded his swing when he was on the roster.
Taveras spoke about how he had learned in the majors that pitchers would use his aggressiveness against him. He took two walks during this stay in the majors, and hitting coach John Mabry complimented Taveras for being aware of a change in approach he may have to take.
Matheny repeatedly said Taveras did not “look overmatched.”
“He is not out of place,” Mabry told the Post-Dispatch in mid-June. “He has the natural ability to square the ball up. That is a pretty good feature to have. You add that experience to what he does really well then you become what you to be as a player. … He is growing at this level. That’s what you hope for – for his talent (to be) the main thing that shines through. Then he adds the little things that he learns and really emphasizes his talent.”