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DH: Pujols starred in the role during first stint with the club

From the Catch '22: The Cardinals have a superb defense, but do they have a subpar offense? series
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World Series Game 3

Cardinals Albert Pujols hits his third home run of the game in the ninth inning during Game 3 of the World Series between the St. Louis Cardinals and the Texas Rangers on Saturday, October 22, 2011 at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington. Photo by Robert Cohen, rcochen@post-dispatch.com

It remains to be seen what Albert Pujols will do as the Cardinals’ designated hitter when the National League makes the move to the concept fulltime this season. But he already is their most productive DH in history for anyone with a significant amount of at-bats in the role.

When he played for the Cardinals the first time around, when interleague play on the road was the only chance for a regular NL player to take a turn as the designated hitter, Pujols hit .360 in 50 at-bats, with four home runs and 12 runs batted in. He had a whopping OPS of 1.087 over 12 games.

For his career, which covered many more games as the DH for the Los Angeles Angels, Pujols hasn’t done as well, sporting a modest .752 OPS, a .258 batting average and 105 homers in 2,263 at-bats. But he still carries an imposing presence, especially against left-handed pitching, which with the Angels and Dodgers he tagged at a .294 clip with 13 home runs and a .939 OPS in just 139 at-bats last season.

Against right-handed pitching, Pujols was ineffective at .180 with four homers and a .500 OPS in 136 at-bats. So this means that left-handed hitter Corey Dickerson, signed for twice as much money ($5 million) as Pujols, will be the left-handed side of a potential DH platoon.

Dickerson has a .255 career mark with 32 homers in 552 at-bats as a DH. But against right-handers overall, he has a .288 career average with an .848 OPS.

So far, it appears the Cardinals’ DH would hit sixth behind Dylan Carlson or fifth behind Nolan Arenado if Carlson winds up as the leadoff man.

Until the arrival of Pujols, right-handed rookie Juan Yepez appeared to be part of the DH combination but didn’t show any power for much of camp, getting just three singles in his first 17 at-bats before he got his first extra-base hit. He was optioned to Memphis with a week of spring training left.

The condensed version of spring training didn’t give teams much time to make decisions or players much time to make favorable impressions. But the Cardinals apparently felt they had little choice but to sign Pujols with just more than a week left in the spring. Dickerson was signed just as the exhibition schedule was starting, to compete with left-handed youngsters Lars Nootbaar and Nolan Gorman, neither of whom hit much in the spring, as it turned out.

“When you look at that DH spot … do you need a veteran presence? No,” Cardinals manager Oliver Marmol asked rhetorically. “Is it helpful? Yes.

“When you’re asking somebody to take four pinch-hit at-bats, which is basically what it is, it’s something that’s learned. Experience definitely helps.

“You don’t know until you experience it. You have a lot more time when you have a bad at-bat to sit there and think about it, mull over it. There’s a learning curve to it.”

The player who has had the most experience as a Cardinals DH is left-handed hitter Brad Miller, who had 102 DH at-bats for the club in 2020, when baseball had a universal DH in the pandemic-affected 60-game schedule. Miller had seven home runs then, but he hit just .206 with a .794 OPS and now is a Texas Ranger.

This is expected to be the only position in the lineup in which the Cardinals will platoon and the only one in which they would pinch hit if the opposition pitcher changes from left to right, or vice versa.

The first designated hitter in Cardinals history was Gene Tenace, who popped out to first base in Game 1 of the World Series in 1982 when the DH was used in St. Louis and Milwaukee as part of a rotation that baseball had adopted with the DH in play in alternate years. Left-handed hitter Dane Iorg, however, was nine-for-17 with four doubles and a triple as a Cardinals DH in the remainder of the Series.

The manager of that team, Hall of Famer Whitey Herzog, had the DH in his previous managing stints in the American League with Texas and Kansas City. Asked if he preferred to have one player man that role, Herzog said, “There’s nothing wrong with that if you’ve got a guy like Boston had in ‘Big Papi (David Ortiz).’

“In the meantime and if you don’t have a DH who’s getting old and who you might want to rest, you can really use the DH as an (edge) for a lot of days. You can give (Nolan) Arenado a rest. You can give ‘Goldy (Paul Goldschmidt)’ a rest or even give Yadi (Molina) a rest. You can really manipulate the DH to your advantage.”

Teams, of course, always are looking for advantages. A blast from the past from Pujols could be one of them.

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