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Shildt no stranger to short seasons, will have Cardinals in 'sprint mode'

Shildt no stranger to short seasons, will have Cardinals in 'sprint mode'

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It had been 104 days since spring training camps had been closed because of the coronavirus and Cardinals manager Mike Shildt, asked how long he had been preparing for a restart, said Wednesday, “Well, 103 days.”

As the Cardinals prepare to open summer camp next week, with their first full workout slated for a week from Friday, Shildt said his excitement level was “high. And higher every day.

“Hey, play ball! Those are the words we’re going to hear. And, in my world, those are two of the best words you could possibly hear,” said Shildt.

The normal 162-game season will have had 102 games shaved off it when it begins either July 23 or July 24. And Shildt said a question he is most asked is “What are you going to do different? It’s a sprint.”

Shildt said, “My answer is that we’re in a sprint/marathon mode during the regular season, regardless. Every day matters, so in a traditional full season, we’re in a sprint mode . . . every day. There’s a daily sense of urgency to that game.

“Preparation is going to look different but we’re not going to prepare more. And 60 games is not like 10 games.

“Effectively, we were in a similar position in our division last year,” said Shildt.

A year ago on July 24, with roughly 60 games to go, the Chicago Cubs, Cardinals and Milwaukee all were within two games of one another, and the same three teams, besides Pittsburgh and Cincinnati, will be tied for first place with 60 games to go this year.

President of baseball operations John Mozeliak noted that Shildt had managed before in short seasons, such as in rookie-level Johnson City when he won a league championship and another division title, and also at Springfield when there were split seasons.

“It is different,” said Mozeliak. “Understanding how to manage halves is how you should think of this 60. He’s someone that certainly has the DNA of always having his team ready.”

At the beginning of this short season Shildt said he would have at least 16 pitchers on a 30-man roster. That roster will shrink by two players after two weeks and two more players after two more weeks, leaving the club at the prescribed 26 for the final month of the truncated season.

“I don’t think we would go over 14 position players so that puts us at a minimum of 16 pitchers,” Shildt said.

Mozeliak all but concurred when he said, “The purpose of the expanded (roster) for the first 14 days is to give yourself a little extra pitching.”

The reason the Cardinals wouldn’t need more than 14 position players is because, for the first time in the National League, teams will be playing with a designated hitter in every game and won’t be pinch hitting much.

Shildt doesn’t deny that he will miss the National League style of managing, with more strategy involved as far as pinch hitting and lineup double switches.

“It’s just a better game,” he said. “But, here’s the thing. It’s no longer the game. I do have an opinion about it, but the fact of the matter is that we play with a designated hitter and we have a three-batter minimum (for pitchers). And my job is to manage within those parameters.

“To expend any more energy thinking about it or talking about it is not a wise use of those resources. This is what we have.”

Starter Adam Wainwright, who has won a Silver Slugger award but probably won’t bat any more, tweeted Wednesday, “So long, National League. It was fun while it lasted.”

Even without pinch hitting for the pitcher, there will be several relievers involved in every game because the starters aren’t apt to go very far, at least at the beginning of the season.

“You probably are looking at more multiple inning situations (for relievers),” said Shildt, the league’s 2019 Manager of the Year as voted by the Baseball Writers’ Association of America. “It’s really important that guys are able do it but . . . you’ve got to make sure you keep guys fresh so you’ve got availability the next day.”

At first, at least, there will be no cheers, or boos at Busch Stadium, and Shildt said he would miss both.

“Oh, absolutely,” he said. “You’re going to get second-guessed and people are going to have their own opinions if things aren’t going well and they’re going to voice them in whatever manner they think is appropriate. But, for the most part, we get a lot of support from our home group and support when things aren’t going as well.

“I, we, are going to miss the support of our fan base and the interaction and the energy that they bring. As things progress, we’ll just get it in a different manner. We won’t get as much of that stimulation at the moment but I would expect that with the different forms that our new society works within, we’ll still be able to feel supported by our beloved fans.”

While Shildt has been planning for the resumption of camp — and Mozeliak, incidentally, said former coach and current instructor Jose Oquendo will be both here and in Springfield for the “taxi squad” camp — Shildt said he had sought the counsel of former managers, including Hall of Famer Tony La Russa.

“The shorter time to get ready — how they would think about it,” Shildt said. “The key to it is being smart about the balancing act of making sure guys are healthy and making sure we take care of guys when the season starts and then, clearly, there’s some competition that matters and making sure we’ve got a sweet spot with both.

“Of course, I’ve talked to Tony more than anybody but Mr. (Joe) Torre has been able to give advice when we have our conference calls with the other managers. He’s had some words of wisdom that I’ve heeded.”

Hall of Famer Torre, now with the commissioner’s office, was the Cardinals’ manager the last time there was a work stoppage in Major League Baseball. But, when the players struck in August, 1994, that ended the season. There was no restart. There was no World Series.

And no cries of “Play ball,” until the spring of 1995.

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