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Cardinals notebook: Tyler O'Neill races, more or less, to get ready for postseason

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Cardinals, Reds at Busch

Cardinals Tyler O'Neill celebrates in the dugout after scoring on a third-inning single by Brendan Donovan against the Reds on Friday, Sept. 16, 2022, at Busch Stadium.

Tyler O’Neill, out two weeks with a left hamstring strain, is racing the clock, in a sense, even when he isn’t running at full speed.

The target for the Cardinals outfielder is to be fit enough to qualify for the roster for a playoff round which will begin here next Friday when the division champion Cardinals entertain a wild-card team in the start of a best-of-three series.

O’Neill, who is on the injured list, began straight-line running on Wednesday and “ramped up the intensity” on Friday.

“We’re still going to build that process from there,” said O’Neill. “I’m going to do my best to get ready for the postseason. That’s the most important thing on the table right now.

“Keep my nose down. Keep my head down. And be ready for that,” the 27-year-old O’Neill said.

This weekend, O’Neill will not be playing. Whether he plays next week in three games at Pittsburgh is doubtful, but manager Oliver Marmol said O’Neill doesn’t necessarily have to be in a game in order to be active next weekend. He said he wouldn’t play O’Neill in the field in the playoffs if he hadn’t played out there before then. But Marmol said that didn’t preclude O’Neill from being an offensive part of a postseason configuration.

O’Neill is hopeful that he can do more agility running in the next couple of days, including running the bases, which would be one of the last steps.

When the Cardinals clinched the National League Central Division title on Tuesday, O’Neill was watching on television — and missing it. But he said, “I would rather the boys clinch it sooner than later.”

But there could be some more celebrations in the offing.

“We’ve got some big ones coming up,” said O’Neill, hopefully. “I want to be part of the next Champagne popping.”

If O’Neill can’t play in a game before the year is over, he would like to get as many as 10 at-bats in simulated-game situations. He has hit mostly off the tee in the batting cage the past few days.

“But I’ve got to be physically ready with my lower half,” said O’Neill, “just to be able to run, to go from first to third, steal that bag when we need to, make that play in the field ...”

There always is the thought that O’Neill wouldn’t be ready for the first round of the games but could be ready for the final three rounds of the tournament.

“If I’m able to come back for that Pittsburgh (road) series, great, but I’m not holding my breath there. I want to be 100 % ready to go, into Friday,” said O’Neill.

O’Neill said he felt the latest hamstring pull — he had one before this season — when he was stealing second base on Sept. 16.

“Right before I slid in, I felt it go on me,” he said.

Arenado, Goldschmidt can play in Toronto

Not to worry about Paul Goldschmidt and Nolan Arenado, who were not vaccinated for COVID-19 when the Cardinals played in Toronto in July and didn’t go. The Canadian government relaxed its restrictions Friday where unvaccinated citizens of any country will be permitted to cross the border into Canada so Goldschmidt and Arenado could play in the World Series should the Cardinals and Blue Jays both get there.

Pujols, Clemente honored

Albert Pujols, the newest member of the 700-homer club, received a “700” gold engraving and a gold-plated bat from chairman Bill DeWitt Jr. and president Bill DeWitt III, who were joined in the presentation by president of baseball operations John Mozeliak and Marmol. Pujols had teared up in the dugout watching a video before he received the gifts. Earlier, the Pujols Family Foundation also was presented with a check of $25,000 from Chick-fil-A.

Honored, too, were members of the Roberto Cemente family in honor of the Pittsburgh Pirates great whose last of 3,000 hits came 50 years ago to the day. Former Roberto Clemente Award winners Pujols and Ozzie Smith took part in a ceremony in which Cardinals Care donated $50,000 to the Roberto Clemente Foundation.

Gorman, Cabrera in limbo

Marmol said that second baseman Nolan Gorman and left-handed reliever Genesis Cabrera, both of whom had been optioned to Class AAA Memphis for the final weeks of the Class AAA season, still were on the radar for possible postseason roster considerations.

But neither is here now, although they could be on a taxi squad to Pittsburgh.

Gorman, who had strikeout troubles with the Cardinals, fanned at an even higher rate in Memphis.

Cabrera had an awful final game but had several scoreless ones before that, including throwing as high as 97 mph on the second of pitching back-to-back days.

Marmol, however, said he wouldn’t overreact to Cabrera’s final outing in which he Cabrera gave up six hits and five runs in one inning.

“We’ve all (stunk) for a day,” Marmol joked.

Meantime, Jordan Hicks, on the injured list with arm fatigue and some neck stiffness, threw in the bullpen before Friday’s game and will throw again Sunday. Marmol said that both Hicks and O’Neill had a chance to be on the postseason roster “until I’m told it’s not possible.”

Cardinals could go with 12 pitchers

Prospective playoff starting pitchers Miles Mikolas and Jose Quintana both will have shorter outings in Pittsburgh next week and may even appear in the same game, Marmol suggested.

Marmol may employ several starting pitchers in short roles next week and didn’t reject the option of piggy-backing pitchers in a postseason game. He did allow that the Cardinals might go with just 12 pitchers for a three-game postseason series, rather than the maximum of 13. The Cardinals have six legitimate starters, and all wouldn’t be needed in a three-game set.

“For a three-game series, you could convince me to go 14-12,” Marmol, said, with 14 the number for position players.

Knizner could catch Mikolas in playoffs

Pujols and Yadier Molina both were in Friday’s starting lineup and again will be on Sunday, when they are honored before their final regular-season game. Marmol wasn’t sure about Saturday’s lineup.

Marmol said Andrew Knizner may get a playoff start with Mikolas, with whom Knizner has teamed well lately. He homered in both games of the recent Milwaukee series.

Molina officially was named Friday to manage Team Puerto Rico in next March’s World Baseball Classic.

BenFred: Fringes of Cardinals postseason roster will be shaped by six game against Pirates
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