CINCINNATI — When Paul Goldschmidt has plunged into the batting cage for extra work or into video for added guidance, he is not looking for ways to overhaul or alter his swing. A struggling hitter doesn’t have to look far for reasons to tinker, so his goal isn’t change.
He’s seeking something that feels the same.
“There’s always struggles through the year — ups and downs — and so it’s no different than any of those except this has gone on longer,” Goldschmidt said Sunday morning. “Just been inconsistent. That’s the biggest thing. That’s one of the things that has led me to have success in my career, and that’s being consistent. Having good at-bats consistently and hitting the ball hard consistently and then you look up at the end of the year and the numbers are there. It’s the same mindset now. It just hasn’t been as consistent.
“It’s one at-bat here, or another at-bat there,” he continued. “It’s one game here, one game there, and all of sudden that’s how the numbers get dragged down.”
On the final day of the Cardinals’ series in Cincinnati, in the middle of an eight-day road trip, Goldschmidt rested. The day off Sunday was partly planned in advance of the weekend and partly a response to the weekend. The Cardinals’ first baseman struck out four times in Thursday’s game, sprinkled in two singles and a sacrifice fly Friday, and then went zero-for-three with runners in scoring position Saturday. Manager Mike Shildt called it a “good time” for a break, and the Cardinals had the roster moves in motion to make it feasible.
As expected, the Cardinals restocked their bullpen Sunday morning with the addition of lefty Tyler Webb and restored the lost bat to their bench by bringing back first baseman Rangel Ravelo. To make room on the active roster the Cardinals sent relievers Ryan Helsley and Dominic Leone to Class AAA Memphis. Helsley pitched two scoreless innings as an emergency callup Saturday to cover a thinned bullpen. The planned promotion for Ravelo coincided with his start Sunday in place of Goldschmidt.
The day off was more of a day delayed for Goldschmidt.
Instead of working in the cage before the game, the six-time All-Star did so during the game as preparation for a possible pinch-hit role. He said he’s been using time in the cage and in front of a laptop to decode where his swing has gone awry. Through nearly 100 games of the season, there are career lows across the back of his baseball card — .248 average, .335 on-base, .424 slugging percentage — and his 2019 OPS of .759 is a drag on his career .916 OPS. Hitting coach Jeff Albert has suggested Goldschmidt look at video from previous seasons to see what was right in his swing, not at-bats from this year to ruminate over what’s wrong.
“You can grind yourself into a pulp trying to look at all the mistakes that are made,” Goldschmidt said. “I’ve had a number of seasons in the big leagues so there is video of the times when I’ve been successful, and you can go back. It’s not like I’m trying to reinvent something.”
For Goldschmidt, the adjustment might not be in his swing but in response to how he’s being pitched. For the first time in his career he is seeing more off-speed pitches than fastballs, and this season has seen a spike in how often he’s hitting with two strikes. Of his 414 plate appearances, 62 percent have reached a two-strike count. In his career before this season, 55 percent of his plate appearances got to two-strikes. The reigning NL MVP Christian Yelich gets to two strikes in 49 percent of his plate appearances this season, and two-strike maven Joey Votto has gotten to two strikes in 57 percent of his plate appearances. Goldschmidt is often in pitcher’s counts and on the defensive.
In the 13 games leading into the series in Cincinnati, Goldschmidt had found success to match a rhythm at the plate, batting .283 with a .609 slugging percentage and a .986 OPS. He had more hits (13) than strikeouts (11) and reached base 20 times.
The upswing didn’t have staying power.
“He’s in a little bit of a trap,” Shildt said. “In the sense that if he has those three weeks he has (and) he puts up numbers and then, rightfully, everybody goes, ‘Of course that’s what he does.’ That’s what he’s here for. The trap is when he doesn’t quite do as well, and there’s like this, ‘Oh, gosh.’ Granted, he hasn’t had a good series. He’s had a rough series. … A lot of guys are making their best pitches on him and getting him in that hole. We know he’s going to work.”
Shildt offered examples of how Goldschmidt has influenced results outside of the batter’s box, from the baserunning he’s encouraged others to do all the way to the improvement on defense. He and Goldschmidt both said Sunday, the impact he can make is on offense.
The consistent impact, that is.
“There is nothing glaring that makes you go, ‘Oh my gosh, what is going on?’” Goldschmidt said. “More consistent. More consistent with it, and that will lead to the results.”
CARP SET FOR SWING THROUGH MINORS
Matt Carpenter has returned to baseball activities at Busch Stadium and could report to a minor-league affiliate by the middle of this week to get game action on his way back to the major-league lineup. Carpenter had a bone contusion in his right foot that required a boot for a few days, and while some soreness has lingered he’s been at Busch running the bases, fielding, and taking swings. He suggested to the Cardinals that he use this recovery time to take a rehab assignment to the minors and work on his swing, which has eluded him much of this season.
The Cardinals plan to assign him to Class AAA Memphis or Class AA Springfield, possibly as early as Tuesday. The goal, Shildt said, is not to get him a quantity of game at-bats — which they could do with the two affiliates in Florida — and rather get him quality at-bats against talent closer to the majors.
“Competition-quality at-bats,” Shildt said.
Carpenter has been on the injured list twice already this month due to back stiffness to open July and then the dent a foul ball put near his ankle a few weeks later. He’s hit .215 this season with a .372 slugging percentage. Both would be career lows.
Matt Holliday, the longtime Cardinals’ outfielder and seven-time All-Star, has joined his brother’s coaching staff at Oklahoma State, the school announced this past week. Holliday will coach offense and outfield for brother Josh’s program. The two Holliday boys grew up around the Cowboys’ baseball program, where their father Tom was a coach or head coach from 1978 through 2003. … In his second game back from the Futures Game, Cardinals top prospect Nolan Gorman had five RBIs and he has cooled since. The 19-year-old third baseman has raised his batting average at High-A from .179 on July 1 to .257 this weekend, and he’s gone on a 10-game tear that included a .350 average (14-for-40), 13 RBIs, no walks, and eight extra-base hits. … When Andrew Knizner stole his first big-league base in the second inning Sunday he became the 16th different Cardinal with at least one steal the season. Boston is second in the majors, at 13.