JUPITER, Fla. — It took a pitcher to explain a term used by hitters, and according to Cardinals right-hander Miles Mikolas a sizzling line drive snared by an opponent is what they’d call “a good spring training out.” Save anyone’s quota of 86-hop groundball singles and dying-quail base hits for the regular season, Mikolas said, because hitters can measure a spring in hard hits and hard outs.
And then there is the spring Paul Goldschmidt just had.
One inning he’s robbed of a home run.
The next he hits it farther, just to be sure.
“It’s baseball, and things are going to happen,” shortstop Paul DeJong said. “But his things that happen are he is robbed of a home run. It’s not like he hits a home run and then strikes out. No, it’s like he hit a home run and had a homer robbed. That’s his hard out.”
“It’s like a video game,” manager Oliver Marmol said. “It doesn’t matter what they throw, it ends up going far.”
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In the Cardinals’ 7-0 finale against Miami at Roger Dean Stadium before flying to St. Louis for the regular season, Goldschmidt punctuated his exhibition season with a sacrifice fly that assured him a .500 average for the spring. The Cardinals’ first baseman went 11-for-22 and was the only hitter in the Grapefruit League to have at least 20 at-bats and hit .500 or better. Of the 370 hitters who had at least 20 at-bats in spring, only one other hitter, Edward Olivares, had a .500 average. Goldschmidt had more home runs (four) than strikeouts (three).
Neither total will appear on his baseball card.
“Nobody really cares what you do in spring training,” Goldschmidt said.
During spring training, when it’s routine over results, process over production, statistics can be a slippery measure of success for a player going into the regular season. Goldschmidt’s success — he had some of the hardest hit balls by exit velocity along the Atlantic Coast of Florida — contrasted with teammate Tommy Edman’s search. Goldschmidt’s outs were loud. Edman’s outs were part of adjusting his approach for future success. The Cardinals’ switch-hitting No. 9 hitter finished the spring with a double Tuesday — his second hit of the season, his first that deep in the outfield, and it came from the right side of the plate. He went zero-for-14 with no walks and three strikeouts from the left side and hit .083 overall.
One infielder is trying to keep it going.
The other begins the season trying to get it going.
And stats don’t tell the whole story.
“It’s not (just) beyond the numbers,” said Marmol, whose team finished 9-5 in his first spring at the helm. “Has (Edman) done well up to his own expectations? The answer is no. So, let’s not fool ourselves. He wishes he had a better spring. We wish he had a better spring. Are there things he’s working and trying to carry over? Yes. A lot of it has to do with strictly the left side. Has it carried over yet? No. Do I think it will? Yes. If I did not, I’d would say so.”
Marmol told Edman what he has also said publicly — that he’s committed to the switch-hitter as the team’s opening day and everyday second baseman.
In an attempt to counter where opposing features tested him most last season — inside with velocity — Edman has been working on adjusting the mechanics of his swing so that he can drive that pitch, even pull it with authority. Marmol explained that they’re working with Edman’s rotation as he hits, to clear the path for the bat so that he meets the pitch in front of the plate. Too often, he would hit that pitch on the ground, and they want him to be able to line that pitch and send notice to opposing pitchers they can no longer live there. That adjustment would open up other areas of the strike zone for Edman to see pitches — and see production.
What doesn’t show up in the box scores of spring is all the at-bats Edman took on the back fields against minor-league pitchers and his own teammates. He was a constant presence in sim games, B-games, and camp games — all the kinds of spring games that can offer a hitter a chance to bebop from field to field for at-bats or, in a sim game, get six or seven at-bats in as little as five innings of play.
“I tend to think about too many things at the same time, so if I can simplify it, not focus on a couple of things, then I can make it a lot easier,” Edman said. “I have to have a little bit of patience with it. I’m going to go from some bad habits that have been building and get rid of them overnight. Gradually work on them, and trust that if you keep working on them day in day out it’s going to carry over to the field. I’m starting to feel more consistent with it. That’s what I’m watching for out there. I’m feeling more and more consistent, day by day, and I know that’s making progress.”
Edman detailed how the work he’s done in the batting cage and during batting practice is where he’s been able to experiment on his approach, tune his approach so that the game at-bats can be about engaging that work and developing muscle memory.
The adjustments “will start to become my natural swing,” he said.
Goldschmidt echoed that view.
For the first time in his major-league career, Goldschmidt is using a new bat model — one that is an inch longer and an ounce heavier but is counterbalanced and designed to generate greater exit velocity. So far, so good. But what stands out so much, his manager and teammates said, is the routine Goldschmidt has established in the cage to prepare for games. His manager called him “fresh,” and teammates have described a buoyancy in his movement. On Tuesday, he agreed to an interview, but first he had to go take groundballs, on his own, on a turf field.
“I’m doubling down on that (routine) more than the .500 batting average,” Marmol said.
“Well, for one, (.500) is hard to do,” third baseman Nolan Arenado said. “He looks as good as I’ve ever seen him. His timing is there. He’s laying off tough pitches. That’s what the greats do. They know how to get ready. And he’s one of the greats.”
Goldschmidt’s starts have been mostly good in his career, but he warms as the weather does, even when he was with Arizona in the desert. Goldschmidt’s .275 average in April, .481 slugging percentage in April, and .859 OPS in April are all the lowest for any month in his career. As a Cardinal, he’s yet to have an average like that in April, and a year ago he hit .214 with a .340 slugging percentage in the season’s first month before closing with such a ferocity of production that he garnered MVP votes.
He had a 1.020 OPS in the second half, elevated by a .618 slugging.
After taking those groundballs Tuesday, he said he has adjusted and adapted his routine year to year, but not chasing a faster start. He does it for durability and to establish a daily baseline he can return to regardless of what he called the inevitable “ups and downs” of a season. That’s what he takes out of spring training — the feel for the practice that led to the .500. And, said Arenado, “I wouldn’t be surprised if he said he can feel even better.”
“You’re talking about such a small (sample) of at-bats that you could hit zero or we could hit better — spring training is about preparing for the regular season,” Goldschmidt said. “The stats are kind of irrelevant. Be ready to go on Thursday.”