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DeJong returns as starting shortstop, where Sosa shined and assured he'll continue to score playing time

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CHICAGO — The sliding tag play that shook his ribcage and signaled that he had an injury impossible to play through found Paul DeJong this past week at Class AAA Memphis as he made his way back to the majors.

He completed it without trouble or pain, but with relief.

“So, I feel like I came full circle with that,” DeJong said. “This is a new lease on the season for me.”

The Cardinals’ starting shortstop returned Friday from a monthlong absence to recover from a broken rib. DeJong, an All-Star one season removed from hitting 30 home runs, went oh-for-four in the Cardinals’ 8-5 loss at Wrigley Field. His batting average settled at .172. While the same spot on the field, the position he returned to on the team is not the same as when he left it — and the Cardinals believe that could be beneficial for him and them.

Shortly after DeJong fractured his rib, Sosa asserted his bid to start at shortstop and overcame the initial plan to use Tommy Edman there often. Sosa, 25, started 22 games during DeJong’s recovery, and he hit .286 with a .375 on-base percentage while also playing defense that ranged from steady to standout. His play answered a question that Cardinals have had bouncing about their dugout for several years — how to alleviate some of the workload from their shortstop, DeJong.

In the same year he hit 30 homers, DeJong played more innings than any other shortstop in the majors, and he described how the workload wore on his offensive consistency.

Sosa presents an understudy, who has shown upside.

“Definitely earned opportunity,” manager Mike Shildt said. “Took advantage of everything he was given — both sides of the baseball. Made a lot of baseball-winning plays. Good at-bats. Good defense. He’s earned opportunity to play more. For sure, he’s earned it.”

Some of the ways the Cardinals could use Sosa include as a late-game defensive replacement at second or shortstop. He offers a righthanded-hitting complement to Matt Carpenter at second while Edman starts in right field. And Shildt suggested Sosa will see starts at shortstop — to keep his play on the field, and give DeJong the breather they’ve sought.

DeJong said the soreness got to a point where he could not throw a ball back from the outfield and he had trouble sneezing, laughing, or yelling at times. The rib healed and his recovery accelerated. He played four games for Class AAA Memphis on a rehab assignment and went one-for-10. He has been playing with a guard that covers his rib but does not confine his movement in the field or mute his swing at the plate.

“I don’t have any limitations right now,” DeJong said. “I feel back to normal, really. Get back in the swings of things of every day.”

Cards looking into Minor League gripes

An advocacy group, with officials in St. Louis, reported on Twitter that “multiple” Cardinals minor-leaguers told them that they were losing money when the team played at home due to the cost of a hotel stay and meals. Advocates for Minor Leaguers detailed how the players suggested they make less than $72 a day and pay around $75 a day for lodging and two meals.

The players, who were unidentified, are with the Cardinals’ lowest affiliate, where the team has negotiated a rate of $45 per night for the hotel.

The major-league club is looking into how to address the complaints.

“We’re going to have to take a closer look,” said John Mozeliak, president of baseball operations, on Friday at Wrigley. “And we’ll see if there’s a better way to help this group.”

The Cardinals have recently increased the money they give to affiliates for food to $750 per day, per affiliate. For several years, they’ve made two meals a day available to the players in hopes of also monitoring and encouraging nutritious eating. The advocacy group’s tweet urged the Cardinals to consider covering the cost of the hotel. First, they’re going to determine if there’s enough food to meet needs for pre- and postgame meals.

Minor-league salaries have risen from previous years within the Cardinals’ organization. The reorganization of the minors, now under the lead of Major League Baseball, has introduced new factors — and, Mozeliak acknowledged, possibilities to improve conditions.

“We’ll evolve with it,” he said.

Kim throws, Shelby Miller considers

At the same time Kwang Hyun Kim took an important step toward a quick return from the injured list, the Cardinals continued their shopping for a quick addition to their pitching depth and have approached their former first-round pick Shelby Miller about returning to the team. A source confirmed that the Cardinals have explored an offer that would bring Miller, a free agent, to Class AAA Memphis and see if his production rises back to the majors.

The Cardinals are quietly kindling optimism that Kim (sore back) can return to the rotation without a rehab assignment. The lefty threw a side session Friday at Wrigley Field, and how he recovers Saturday will shape the Cardinals plans for him and the possibility he’ll throw a full-speed bullpen and return shortly after he’s eligible.

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