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Cardinals host Padres in home opener

Cardinals manager Mike Shildt talks with former Cardinal manager Tony La Russa on Friday, April 5, 2019, before the team's home opener, against San Diego, at Busch Stadium. (Photo by Christian Gooden, cgooden@post-dispatch.com)

SAN FRANCISCO — Mike Shildt, named as interim Cardinals manager the day before the All-Star break last year, got to this year’s All-Star break with an 85-72 record, which would be on a pace of 88 wins for a 162-game season. That figure might win a balanced, competitive National League Central this year.

Asked Sunday if he was happy with that record, Shildt at first answered, “I don’t know. I’ve got to think about it some, because that’s our record.

“Obviously, you’re winning more than you’re losing, so that’s a positive. But ultimately, all that matters is to get into the playoffs. So there’s no real satisfaction in anything other than playing October baseball in St. Louis,” Shildt said.

A year ago, Shildt was a second-year big-league coach who had little idea he would be a big-league manager. This would be in lockstep with the thinking for most of his minor-league career in the organization.

“I was just taking care of my business and not looking too far ahead,” he said.

He recalled longtime Cardinals organizational guru George Kissell, asking in a book which all coaches and managers found required reading, ‘Are you an organization man?’ I think about it a lot. The one thing I’ve always appreciated about the people in this organization — that there’s a real strong and sincere appreciation of what’s best for the birds on the bat, versus your own career,” said Shildt.

Mark DeJohn, the minor league field coordinator, would reprise Kissell’s instructions.

“The first thing he told me,” said Shildt, “was that your job is to get the players to the big leagues, not yourself. And I took that very sincerely. I just wanted to become a better baseball person to create value for the organization — and continue to have employment.

“Then, when you get to Double-A and Triple-A and there’s a fall league (Arizona Fall League) and then you get to come up here and help out, you go, ‘I think I can manage in the big leagues.' But I never made it a real goal.”

Shildt said he had learned much in 12 months, adding “This job stretches you. It’s a job that requires you to be both very patient and pro-active. Those two are the balancing act. There’s a sweet spot in there.

“It comes into play with a lot of different things — your relationship with players or media or in-game strategy.”

Strategy always has been something that has fascinated Shildt, even when he was working with Baltimore’s Class AA team in Charlotte, N.C., as a youth when his mother was an assistant in the front office.

“I was an adequate, at best, college player,” he said. “But I always had studied strategy, coaches, philosophies and I grew up in it, so I got to see some really good managers — Grady Little, Tom Kelly, Jimy Williams — and see how they related to their players.

“I grew up doing the scoreboard, too, so I got to see what the media angle looks like. I did the umpires’ room and what happened after a tough game where people would kick at their door and they’d be sneaking out of a window at a Double-A park. I experienced it, but I’d also studied it, so I had a pretty full picture.”

Shildt said he had some things upon which he could improve.

“You can always communicate better,” he said. “And I’m intentional about wanting to take advantage of other people’s experience. I’m not afraid to be vulnerable and ask a question to a Tony (La Russa) or a Whitey (Herzog), somebody who’s been in these shoes.”

There are 74 games remaining for the Cardinals, who are dead-even .500 at 44-44. They were 41-28 for Shildt last season.

“There’s not a lot of mystery with this team,” Shildt said. “We do a lot of things very well. We play the game clean. We just have to get the consistent pitching out of our starters.

“The bullpen’s been outstanding. But getting four, five innings out of a starting rotation consistently is not a recipe for sustained success.

“We clearly have allowed ourselves to be in a competitive position in our division because of our cleanliness of play. But the inability to score consistently and the inability to get a rhythm with our starters has put us where we are.

“If we had had a little more consistency in any of those categories, it’s hard to say where we’d be. But we’d be where we were at the beginning of the year. We’d be a top-level club because we rewarded our clean play with good pitching and offense.”

Shildt enunciated some of these things nearly two weeks ago when he took to the pulpit and preached that the Cardinals, indeed, were doing some good things, albeit their inconsistent starting pitching and offense. There was some reaction.

“I wasn’t overly surprised by it,” Shildt said. “Internally, none. But I got feedback from both ways externally. People appreciated that I was honest, transparent, accountable and was supportive of what we’re trying to do here.

“And then you’ve got the other side that thought it was covering up some things and took exception of how I was trying to support the team.

“My only issue was that I thought some of it was taken a little out of context. I always have to look in the mirror (but) I stand behind everything I said. I could have articulated it a little better, which opened up some interpretation for people who mostly weren’t there.

“There wasn’t any agenda to it. But I take very sincerely the role of a mouthpiece for the team on the field.

“I respect our fan base greatly and I want to provide them as much information as I can. . . that they can understand and experience the journey with us. I felt like I did that.

“I’m a pretty positive person but I’m not a head-in-the-sand guy. I was pretty clear on what I thought we needed to improve on — ad nauseum.”

EXTRA BASES

Class AAA Memphis, two-time Pacific Coast League champion, reached the All-Star break at 36-54. In a 7-5 loss at Iowa on Sunday, outfielder Randy Arozaena, whose season was delayed because he had been hit by a pitch in the hand in spring training, had two hits, giving him a run of 11 starts in which he had a hit and boosted his average to .388.

• The Giants’ Madison Bumgarner, who was drilled on his pitching elbow by a line drive hit by the Cardinals’ Jose Martinez on Saturday, is on track to pitch next weekend in Milwaukee.