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Cardinals notebook: Time is right for O'Neill's return to lineup after 'reset' to find his timing, Marmol says

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Orioles 5, Cardinals 3

St. Louis Cardinal outfielder Tyler O'Neill loses his helmet swinging and missing for the final out on Tuesday, May 10, 2022, to end a game against the Baltimore Orioles at Busch Stadium in St. Louis. Photo by Christian Gooden,

NEW YORK — When manager Oliver Marmol and the Cardinals’ group of hitting coaches met privately with left fielder Tyler O’Neill to talk about his weekend away from the lineup, they gave him a plan, a promise, a clear goal, and something everyone in the room agreed he needed.

A pause.

“They gave me a reset,” O’Neill said.

Absent from the starting lineup since Friday, O’Neill returned to left field for both halves of Tuesday’s doubleheader. His ninth-inning single in Game 1 gave the Cardinals a brief flicker before losing, 3-1, and in five of his first six at-bats Tuesday, O’Neill struck out. It was not the return and “get on a roll” the team imagined. But that was part of the original message from Marmol: The results were important, the lack of results is what removed O’Neill from the lineup, but his starts this week would reflect the work he put in, not the immediate output in box scores.

“There are clear expectations (and) it’s not that you need to get two hits today to play more tomorrow,” Marmol said. “It is: Here is what we expect after you have two days off. If you can eliminate the guessing game, then usually stuff works better.”

The focus of O’Neill’s regimen over the past weekend was his timing. Entering the season, the Gold Glove-winning outfielder felt a glitch in the mechanics of his swing, and he believes while working to correct it, his timing went adrift.

His toe tap was off.

His swing hasty.

He rushed to catch up to misplaced production.

And his batting average sunk to .193 as play started Tuesday.

“Trying to slow me down a little bit,” O’Neill said of the goal. “I’ve been a little quick at the plate lately, and my timing is just not quite there. They want me to slow it down and give it a good couple of work days to really get my timing. When you’re watching me hit well I’m nice and slow early and then — it’s attack mode. It’s very key for me to not be mechanical, not be boxy.”

Part of the work that O’Neill did over the weekend was to stand in on Jack Flaherty’s and Jordan Hicks’ bullpen sessions. That view from outside the batting cages and inside the batter’s box helped him identify and track pitches while going through his approach at the plate before setting loose a swing. It gave him a sense of timing he could take into the cage.

Away from the game, he was able to get the reps to restore that muscle memory and maybe, Marmol suggested, shed some memories from the slow start.

“That was more my decision of wanting him to have two days to just get right mentally and physically,” Marmol said. “We felt it was important, rather than firing him in there.”

Postponement inspires Donovan’s proposal

The unexpected evening off Monday in New York City inspired Cardinals rookie Brendan Donovan to invite his girlfriend, Aly Kitchen, for an impromptu walk and a long-term proposal.

With his first major-league paycheck earlier this month, Donovan purchased an engagement ring and had been carrying it, seeking the right time to offer it. Back from the ballpark Monday, he suggested a walk to Times Square, a favorite spot for Kitchen, who Donovan met in college at South Alabama. Donovan asked teammate Jake Walsh to tag along. Walsh was tasked with taking pictures and admitted later he was nervous he might miss the moment.

“We looked for a less populated area,” Donovan said. “I try not to be the center of attention.”

Kitchen said yes, confirming the engagement on social media.

In the dugout Tuesday at Citi Field, Donovan smiled and agreed, “Yes, it’s been a lot happening.” In the past three weeks, he made his major-league debut, hit his first major-league home run, got that first major-league paycheck, and on Tuesday started both halves of a doubleheader.

“She’s been with me through this, my support system for a long time,” Donovan said. “When I got some money, I was going to put it toward a ring and be ready.”

Extra Bases

With four plate appearances in Game 1, Yadier Molina surpassed Hall of Famer, St. Louis native, and former Mets manager Yogi Berra for the seventh-most plate appearances for a full-time catcher. The four plate appearances give Molina 8,363 in his career. Ivan Rodriguez leads all catchers with more than 10,000. … Molina’s hitless Game 1 ended his streak at 15 consecutive games with at least a hit at Citi Field. That was the longest active streak for a visiting ballplayer at the Queens stadium and the sixth-longest. … Paul Goldschmidt extended his hitting streak to 10 games with a single in the first inning of Tuesday’s Game 2. That also extended his streak to 24 consecutive games of reaching base safely.

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