ATLANTA — Although the Cardinals had lost nine of their past 11 games, manager Mike Shildt trusted the process. He stayed with his regular lineup Tuesday night against the Atlanta Braves, which was not the regular lineup when the season began six weeks ago.
Center fielder Harrison Bader has been cleared for full-time duty after recovering from neck stiffness, following a stay on the injury list with a strained hamstring. It has been a baseball adage that a regular player doesn’t lose his job because of an injury, but in the case of Bader, who was batting .200, it was different. The two outfielders who are playing ahead of him were Jose Martinez, hitting .339, and Dexter Fowler at .294.
Shildt said he has had “constant communication” with Bader and said the young righthanded hitter understood the situation. “We’ve got a guy in Jose who took advantage of the opportunity, as he always has,” Shildt said. “He’s one of the better offensive players in the league.
“And Dexter has done a nice job not only defensively (in center field) but offensively. Harrison understands he’s going to get his opportunities. There’s a lot of season left.”
Bader said, “It is what it is. Keep a positive mindset. Work hard. And be ready for my name to be called, whenever it is.”
Generally, that has been from the sixth inning on because Bader has been finishing most of the games in the outfield, especially when the Cardinals have been ahead, which hasn’t been all that often lately.
“All I can control is my mindset coming to the field and my preparation here,” said the 24-year-old Bader. “I’m going to do everything I can to help contribute to a victory, whether it’s in the first inning or the ninth.”
There could be a temptation to try to make up for lost time and lack of results when such a player gets his chance. But Bader said, flatly, “That’s like an adolescent way of looking at things. It’s not a professional mindset. It’s the wrong way to think of things.
“Whether you get one at-bat or four at-bats in a game, you just have to be yourself and play your game. Obviously, you want to be in there every single second but because I’m not doesn’t change the way I go about my business.
“That’s a winning attitude and it’s a winning ball club. I’m just looking to get in there any way I can.”
O’NEILL DOESN’T MOVE — YET
Tyler O’Neill, who ranks behind Bader now inasmuch as he is at Memphis, hit five homers in his first week-plus in Class AAA and reaffirmed he doesn’t belong at that level. But general manager Michael Girsch, citing the other outfielders here, said there wasn’t an imminent move in the works for O’Neill, who has been down 11 days now. He said, for instance, a decision hadn’t been made whether to keep 13 pitchers for the Cardinals’ first interleague series at Texas this weekend.
“(O’Neill) has shown he doesn’t have a whole lot left to prove at Triple A, but he does need playing time,” Girsch said. “It’s a balancing act that we’re trying to find the right mix.”
CARPENTER 60 POINTS BETTER
Wednesday is the year anniversary of Matt Carpenter’s average dropping to .140. “That’s not an anniversary,” said Carpenter, dryly. Nonetheless, he was 61 points ahead of that pace going into Tuesday’s game at .201.
From that point last year, Carpenter would go 13 for 26 with seven doubles to reach the .210 mark, from where he would jump off to a 36-homer season.
Shildt still thought Carpenter was hitting the ball hard enough lately to have had more hits and said, “We can’t get bogged down by numbers, (but) we can’t ignore them clearly.”
Last year, Carpenter was assured by Girsch and others in the front office that metrics showed him to be much better than a .140 swatsmith, and Shildt said he felt the same way now, with a couple of reservations.
“Too many swings and misses,” Shildt said. There has been a resultant downturn in walks for Carpenter, who barely is on pace for 100, well below his norm. His on-base percentage was a miserly .318.
“That’s really low,” agreed Shildt. “That’s low for our team and it’s low for him.”
Shildt reiterated he would keep Carpenter in the leadoff spot “for now. He’s got the right approach for it. He’s an All-Star-caliber player, MVP-caliber player. We want to see the results, including him. Be more consistent.”
REYES HAS 70-PLUS PITCHES
Righthander Alex Reyes, who is back in Jupiter, Fla., pitching while his broken left hand heals, threw 70 pitches (from behind a screen) against extended spring hitters Monday. “Other than the fact he can’t catch a baseball yet, there’s no limitations,” said Girsch.
Reyes’ hand, injured when he punched a wall, will be examined in a few days to determine when he can begin wearing a glove again and participate in fielding activities. He still is assigned to Memphis.
Power-hitting third baseman Malcolm Nunez, who tore up the Dominican Summer League at .415 last year, was moved from extended spring training to Class A Peoria, where prized prospect Nolan Gorman is holding forth.
“Gorman will play five or six games a week at third base,” Girsch said. “When he’s not, Nunez will. Nunez will DH the other times. But we wanted to get Nunez out of Jupiter and get him into a competitive environment. As much as he needs reps at third base, he needs reps against high-quality pitching. The back fields at Jupiter are a challenge to stay focused for anybody.”
But, Girsch said, “I doubt that both will be in that situation the rest of the season,” meaning Gorman likely will be promoted before too long.