CINCINNATI — When Cardinals infielder Kolten Wong did not see his name in the lineup Wednesday for the home stand’s finale, he was less than thrilled and more than curious about the decision so he sought a meeting with the manager.
He found Mike Shildt’s door open and an explanation waiting.
“It’s definitely more about understanding the decision,” Wong said. “You never want to accept not playing. I look at it like this for me: I (signed) a contract awhile back to be one of the guys who carries on the Cardinals’ tradition. I want these guys, these young guys who come into this clubhouse, to realize it’s not about the money, man, it’s about going there and fighting with your brothers. … The Cardinals — we deserve to be back in the playoffs, and I want to be one of the guys to help make that happen.”
Wong, in his sixth full season with the Cardinals, has been on an uptick offensively with a .381 average (eight-for-21) and a .458 on-base percentage in the past two weeks and a .310 average and .375 OBP in July. He boosted both Thursday as he returned to the starting lineup and reached base in his first three plate appearances, which included two singles. The day off Wednesday was manifold — from the 17 consecutive days the Cardinals are playing to fly-ball pitcher Daniel Ponce de Leon to finding playing time for other infielders. Tommy Edman and Yairo Munoz have shoved their way into more playing time at third base or second, where Wong is a Gold Glove Award favorite.
This season, Wong has seen his splits flip, and he’s hitting better against lefties (.805 OPS) than righthanded pitchers (.667 OPS). Wednesday’s game was vs. a righthander.
Wong wanted to discuss the reasons for the rest. Shildt obliged. In the past he has described a lack of communication between him and the manager’s office. Shildt, who has known Wong since they were at Class AA Springfield together in these same roles, prioritized opening that avenue with his infielder. Wong suggested that Shildt could read him Wednesday and know he “was not pleased with not playing.” Shildt said their conversation should remain private, and Wong only said it was “grown people talking” and he got to state his case.
“Shildt having my back,” Wong said.
On Thursday, he shouted from the batting cage that he wished the game started sooner.
“General speaking — Kolten happens to fit into it because he’s on the team — my relationship with our players is so valuable because that’s one of the reasons I got into coach and managing,” Shildt said. “Those conversations are honest. They’re accountable. They’re supportive. There is love. Sometimes there is tough love. And they are also reciprocal. I have a policy with the guys. If I’m going to tell somebody something they may be uncomfortable with or give them a truth — my truth — but also I’m willing to get it back at me. Guys will do it. Give me some honest feedback and some clarity. Tell me things that I want to hear, and tell me things that sometimes I don’t want to hear.
“I welcome that,” he concluded. “That’s how healthy relationships grow.”
OZUNA & INJURY ROUNDUP
Marcell Ozuna (hand/figure fractures) worked out at Busch Stadium on Thursday, Shildt said, and the team has been encouraged by his progress toward a point “we can justify baseball activities,” Shildt said. Ozuna has had a reduction in swelling in his right hand, and once it has entirely cleared he can being rebuilding and measuring his grip strength. Ozuna has been doing exercises so that he does not lose the arm strength and arm health he focused on all spring. … The approximate target date for a re-evaluation of Yadier Molina’s torn ligament in his thumb after rest is July 29. ... The club hopes that Matt Carpenter (foot bone contusion) will be able to start a rehab assignment in the minors while the team is on this eight-day road trip.