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Cardinals Shildt won't 'scapegoat' coaches; urges 'hard conversations' with Albert, hitters about changing approach
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Cardinals Shildt won't 'scapegoat' coaches; urges 'hard conversations' with Albert, hitters about changing approach

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As the Cardinals’ “one-dimensional” and wholly struggling offense has become the subject of internal discussions, external criticism and ongoing dissection, manager Mike Shildt acknowledged changes are necessary but said Friday those must be in approach, not coach.

“I’m not going to, at this moment, sit here and make a coach a scapegoat for our inability to A: be healthy, you know, and B: not to be able to perform as well as we’d like on the field,” Shildt said. “We all ultimately take responsibility for that. And, you know, I ultimately have to.”

Alterations this week to the lineup, such as Dylan Carlson moving up to leadoff and Edmundo Sosa in at shortstop Friday, are outward examples of adjustments in emphasis that are taking place elsewhere — such as in workouts and in conversations.

The Cardinals had situational hitting drills as part of their batting practice Friday, as they would in spring training. They’ve talked about body language and the importance of not “getting sideways” by reaching for the big hit that shatters a slump. They are reviewing how they prepare for individual pitchers, and the information is relayed to hitters about how their best swing lines up with the approach that pitcher will take.

Following the Cardinals’ 8-2 loss to Pittsburgh on Thursday, infielder Tommy Edman detailed how the team needed changes to its preparation for that game’s pitcher and in-game updates. A concern for the Cardinals has been how pull-happy they’ve become in their hunt for greater slugging numbers and how that has pulled them away from getting consistently on base.

“Best way to find a solution?” Shildt asked. “Mix up the lineup. Have hard conversations about some hitting philosophy things. Change that.”

That becomes the charge of hitting coach Jeff Albert.

On Friday, as he approached the cage for BP, Albert told the Post-Dispatch his view of the adjustments prompted by the meetings of the past week.

“I think it’s kind of getting back to consistently covering all the details and the small things and reminding ourselves not to overlook any of those areas,” Albert said. “You’ve got to get on base. You’ve got to hit line drives. You’ve got to hit the ball hard and not get too focused on (one aspect). They’re all important. I think, collectively, making sure we’re continuing to touch all of those areas consistently and not get our mindset too one-dimensional.”

That was the same phrase, “one dimensional,” that Shildt used to describe the offense. The turn toward driving the ball in the air and often to the pull side is a noble goal, but it cannot be a singular goal. And it’s also a goal the Cardinals have not met consistently.

Before Nolan Arenado’s homer in the third inning Friday night, the Cardinals had 13 homers as a team in June. Washington’s Kyle Schwarber had 12 — alone. The Cardinals entered Friday’s game slugging their area code (.314), which located them at the bottom of baseball.

They had scored the fewest runs in June, with 60.

That put them 17 behind the 29th-worst team, Arizona.

The Diamondbacks started the month 2-19.

The slide in the standings coincides with a downturn in the offense after scoring the eighth-most runs in April and feeling buoyant coming out of spring training. The equation to reconnect with that production for the Cardinals is getting back to basics: They’ve seen opponents turn a bounty of walks into runs. So take walks. They know that power has the most impact as the punctuation for a rally. Shildt said within Thursday’s loss he saw “incremental” improvement from the five walks the team took. The stride toward runs was still missing.

From lineup to approach to message to who is delivering it, ultimately, they’ll be judged on whether they change the look of the scoreboard.

“It’s what we have to do to win, to adjust and adapt to different pitchers in different situations, both collectively and individually,” Albert said. “We’re sticking with the idea of being a well-rounded offense.”

Rotation change(s) coming

As the Cardinals complete at least one change they’ll make to the pitching rotation, all options within the organization are being discussed. Lefty Wade LeBlanc, signed as a free agent a week ago, is the most readily available and recently stretched-out alternative to make a start. He’s been discussed as an immediate substitute, possibly for John Gant or Carlos Martinez.

Gant will be available in relief as early as Saturday.

Shildt said the focus has been on “internal” replacements.

The front office has continued to sort through trade discussions and scan the waiver wire for reinforcement.

The Cardinals also have Jake Woodford as the long reliever in the bullpen, and top prospect Matthew Liberatore has asserted himself with Class AAA Memphis and helped pitch Team USA into the Olympics. Liberatore, 21, struck out nine and allowed four runs on four hits in 5 1/3 innings for the Redbirds on Thursday. He has a 4.62 ERA at Class AAA and is a start removed from back-to-back one-run, five-inning games. The lefty would be on turn the next time Martinez’s spot in the rotation is due.

Martinez allowed five runs on five hits and seven walks Thursday night. In June, he’s lost all five of his starts with a 13.73 ERA and 48 baserunners in 19 ½ innings. He and Gant, who leads the majors in walks allowed, have had prior success in relief.

Bader starts route back

Harrison Bader (fractured rib) started in center, batted leadoff and singled in his second at-bat for Low-A Palm Beach as the first step in his official rehab assignment. Bader will spend the weekend with the PB-Cardinals before a reevaluation Monday that could lead to a swing through a higher level — or a ride to the majors. The Cardinals are hopeful that Bader, who has missed a month with the rib injury, will have his timing and be ready to return to the lineup within the next week.

Flaherty, Miller help dedicate Stars Park

Cardinals pitchers Jack Flaherty and Andrew Miller, along with Hall of Famer Ted Simmons and Cardinals alum Scott Terry, were present for Friday’s dedication of Stars Park at Harris-Stowe State University.

Once home to an early baseball dynasty in St. Louis, the Stars of the Negro Leagues, the ballpark underwent $1.2 million in renovations to be a tribute to the team that played there and a better facility for Harris-Stowe’s baseball and softball programs. The Cardinals worked with their charitable arm, Cardinals Care, and the university to fund the project.

The field includes updated seating and scoreboards as well as improved dugouts.

The ceremony was moved indoors because of the weather. Miller brought his son along for the event, and Flaherty was able to spend some time with some of the young ballplayers present.

The field was the home of the Stars from 1922 to 1931, and it’s where Cool Papa Bell ran his way to Cooperstown and the Stars won league championships in 1928, 1930, and 1931.

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