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After late-season surge, Cardinals optimistic this offseason

St. Louis Cardinals shortstop Yairo Munoz gets a pat on the back from hitting coach Mark Budaska. (AP Photo)

KANSAS CITY • The decision to replace Cardinals assistant hitting coach Mark Budaska with Memphis hitting coach Jobel Jimenez on Monday was thought to be a front-office move. Manager Mike Shildt said that president of baseball operations John Mozeliak certainly was a part of it, but Shildt made it clear here Tuesday night that the decision was made here on Monday’s off day — by himself.

“It’s really a decision that I didn’t want to make but I’m comfortable and confident it was the right decision,” said Shildt.

“Collectively, it was made but I ultimately made the decision. That was a difficult decision and not one that was taken lightly by any stretch of the imagination. It was done after multiple internal conversations to try to find a solution.

“After a while, it got to a point where I made the decision for the greater good and moving forward, we’d make a transition.”

Jeff Albert, more data driven, was hired as the head hitting coach before the season began and Budaska, who finished last season as the interim hitting coach after John Mabry was fired, was made the assistant coach this year.

“I know ‘Mo’ mentioned that there were some philosophical differences and that would be accurate," said  Shildt. "But, from my chair, I always encourage within our staff and within our clubhouse to have a very open, honest dialogue about you think and feel. We welcome varying opinions. I think that’s how we grow. We also want it to come from a like-minded place when we do it.

"It’s not that there was a difference of opinion. It was about how it was ultimately, consistently handled.

“It’s more about creating some consistent clarity and messaging. It doesn’t have to be kumbaya and everybody is working off the same script all the time. But there does need to be clarity in what that looks like for the player and that communication being consistent and supportive. I didn’t (think) that was taking place on a consistent basis.”

Shortstop Paul DeJong said that from the beginning of the season “guys used both Jeff and (Budaska). Sometimes, there’s different ways of looking at things and when they don’t talk and exchange ideas, sometimes it’s hard to get some collaboration.

“If either side is unwilling or unable to collaborate, that’s going to cause some tension and some problems, so, for us as a group we just need to get to understanding and listening to each other and trying to come up with solutions rather than try to bring our pre-conceptions in _ not really solving the problem but perpetuating it.”

Perhaps it wasn’t as clear as “old school vs. new school,” and Shildt said that conclusion would be too “easy” to reach.

“There’s just a lot of different ways for things to be done in today’s game,” Shildt. “The open-mindedness to that and still look at what has for worked for years. . . the blend of that is very important. We talked about that in the off-season to try to find what that sweet spot looks like. We’re just looking to continue to find what that sweet spot is.

“It wasn’t maybe the opinion being different, it was how it was handled.”

Shildt said that in the last day he had spoken to every position player, including Harrison Bader, who still is at Memphis. “Everybody was supportive,” said Shildt.

Second baseman Kolten Wong said, "(The change) was something that caught a lot of people off guard. Wong said he didn’t think  Albert and Budaska, 66, were a lot different in philosophies “but just a lot different in approaches. ‘Buddha’ was definitely a lot more laid back and tried not to make it. . . . complex. . .   that’s the word I’m looking for.

“Jeff has his own approach and what he thinks his approach is doing to hitters. ‘Buddha’ was more about simplifying the game in ‘old school.’ It was one of those things where you had new school and old school kind of coming together. It can go one of two ways.

“(The Cardinals) were going down a different route, I feel.”

Wong, a fellow Hawaiian like Budaska and who was instructed by Budaska at Memphis and with the Cardinals, said, “(Decisions) obviously have to be made. It’s a little above my pay grade as far as what’s going on right now.

“You hope for nothing but the best for him. I’ll see him this off-season. It was a decision the Cardinals made. And it is what it is.

“’’Buddha’ was kind of one guy I was able to talk and reminisce about being back home and he would kind of calm me down when I was going through some tough times, so I’m going to miss ‘Buddha’ for that and all the things that he’s taught me.”

Wong spoke of Budaska’s ability to “simplify things for me when other coaches weren’t able to get to that point. When you’re at the highest level, some coaches try to take it too far and make you think a little too much while you’re swinging. ‘Buddha’ was always there to simplify things and try to make it a little easier.

“A decision had to be made and, unfortunately, it was him.”

DeJong, who also had Budaska at Memphis and in the big leagues, agreed with Wong about the simplistic approach to hitting. “There were little weaknesses between him and Jeff based on working on weaknesses or working on strengths," said DeJong.

“There was some difference of opinion but overall I felt got information from both of them. I had Jobel at Peoria in 2015. I’m comfortable with him. Jobel also simplifies things. He’ll also be able to speak Spanish to some of the Latin guys. Some new energy, some new direction, can be good for all of us.

“I’m very thankful for (Budaska’s) service to us. It’s one of those things were there’s a difference of opinion and you’ve got to move on.”

Shildt said “I’ve got a ton of respect and have had for Mark Budaska for going on 12 years that I’ve known him in the organization. He’s done a tremendous job. He’s been a big contributor to what we’ve done here."

THOMAS IN LINEUP, AROZARENA ISN'T

Newly promoted outfielder Randy Arozarena is not in the Cardinals’ lineup but rookie outfielder Lane Thomas, who knocked in five runs Sunday with a grand slam and a triple, will be in center field and batting ninth Tuesday night.

Catcher Yadier Molina, who has not played for the Cardinals since before the All-Star break because of recurring problems with a torn thumb tendon, will hit seventh and handle Jack Flaherty against the Kansas City Royals.

Matt Carpenter, who has a .403 lifetime batting and 1.224 OPS at Kauffman Stadium, will be the designated hitter as hot-hitting Tommy Edman will be at third base. Rookie Edman had seven hits in a three-game weekend sweep of the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Flaherty, though only 5-6, has been one of the best pitchers in the majors for the five weeks. In his past six starts, in which he is only 1-1 with four no-decisions, the righthander has allowed just four runs and 19 hits, covering 38 1/3 innings. He has fanned 49 and walked but 10.

New assistant hitting coach Jobel Jimenez, making his own major league debut after coming up from Memphis to replace fired Mark Budaska, helped preside over early hitting Tuesday at Kauffman.

CARDINALS’ LINEUP:

1. Dexter Fowler rf

2. Tommy Edman 3b

3. Paul Goldschmidt 1b

4. Marcell Ozuna lf

5. Paul DeJong ss

6. Matt Carpenter dh

7. Yadier Molina c

8. Kolten Wong 2b

9. Lane Thomas cf

RH Jack Flaherty p

KANSAS CITY LINEUP

1. Whit Merrifield cf

2. Alex Gordon lf

3. Hunter Dozier rf

4. Jorge Soler dh

5. Cheslor Cuthbert 3b

6, Ryan O’Hearn 1b

7. Humberto Arteaga ss

8. Meibrys Viloria c

9. Nicky Lopez 2b

RH Glenn Sparkman p

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