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Pujols rejoins starters at DH vs. KC, but there's more to the Cardinals' left-leaning lineup than him

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St. Louis Cardinals open the season at home against the Pittsburgh Pirates

Fans pull out their camera phones during St. Louis Cardinal Albert Pujols (5) first at bat in the first inning of a baseball game between the Cardinals and the Pirates on Thursday, April, 7, 2022, at Busch Stadium in St. Louis, Mo. Photo by Laurie Skrivan, lskrivan@post-dispatch.com

There's more to the Cardinals' lineup against a lefthanded pitcher than just sliding three-time MVP Albert Pujols into the fifth spot and handing it to the umpires.

The ongoing glimpses of what the Cardinals mean when they say they're going to let matchups drive their lineup decisions continue Tuesday as the Kansas City Royals visit for an interleague series open with left-hander Daniel Lynch on the mound. There is a rewrite of the lineup that goes deeper than starting Pujols.

The Cardinals are responding to more than handedness.

Tommy Edman, who has hit ninth in the first three games of the season, moves up to the sixth spot, snug behind Pujols. DeJong, who has been in that spot thus far this season, moves down to No. 8, and that nudges Harrison Bader up. With Edman as a switch-hitter, all three hit right-handed, so what gives against a lefty?

The splits give.

This past season, DeJong had a .163 average against lefties and a .606 OPS, while Edman and Bader both side better overall and specifically against lefties. Bader slugged .471 and had a .765 OPS against lefties in 75 plate appearances. Edman played the most of the trio against lefties and from the right side of the plate had a .486 slugging percentage and a .794 OPS.

The trends go back several years. Since his debut in the majors, Edman has a .524 slugging percentage and an .856 OPS from the right side of the plate. He's successful there enough that the Cardinals and Edman have discussed where he should abandon switch-hitting and commit to the right side. They have decided against it so far, seeking instead to improve his swing from the left side for how high-velocity right-handers pitch to him. How they have responded to his success from the right side is to hit him behind Pujols.

Since 2018, Bader has a .812 OPS and a .489 slugging percentage against lefties.

In that same stretch, DeJong has a .631 OPS and .337 slugging.

Cardinals manager Oliver Marmol, who will be back in the dugout and at the helm after missing the weekend to recover from the flu, advertised all spring how he would make decisions with the roster and some pinch-hit moves based on such things as splits and pitch types and swing paths and, yes, handedness. In his office Tuesday, several hours before first pitch, he said that Edman is batting fifth to get him the most at-bats possible against the lefty before KC makes a pitch change. So, that's what he meant.

Dakota Hudson is full go, no overt restrictions as he makes his first start of the season. The right-hander missed most of 2020 and 2021 recovering from elbow surgery, and the Cardinals believe his strength and recovery has been enough to start this season without a governor his pitch count or innings.

In relief, the Cardinals have right-hander Jordan Hicks available.

He is the scheduled starter for Saturday in Milwaukee. That assignment is written in pencil for the moment as the Cardinals await to see how he's used Tuesday evening and how he recovers. The hope is for him to get that start against the Brewers up in Wisconsin.

Marmol wants Drew VerHagen to get an inning or so at some point against the Royals to "get his feet wet." The Cardinals had held the right-hander back to be available in relief Tuesday when Hicks was originally scheduled as starter.

CARDINALS

1. Dylan Carlson, RF

2. Paul Goldschmidt, 1B

3. Tyler O'Neill, LF

4. Nolan Arenado, 3B

5. Albert Pujols, DH

6. Tommy Edman, 2B

7. Harrison Bader, CF

8. Paul DeJong, SS

9. Andrew Knizner, C

P. Dakota Hudson, RHP

KANSAS CITY

1. Whit Merrifield, RF

2. Bobby Witt Jr., 3B

3. Andrew Benintendi, LF

4. Salvador Perez, DH

5. Carlos Santana, 1B

6. Adalberto Mondesi, SS

7. Michael A. Taylor, CF

8. Nicky Lopez, 2B

9. Cam Gallagher, C

P. Daniel Lynch, LHP

Check back later this evening from complete coverage of the game from Rick Hummel and the Post-Dispatch team of baseball writers. Expanded minor-league coverage is also available at STL Pinch Hits.

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