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Hochman: Inside the mindset and mantra of Cardinals rookie Nolan Gorman

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Cardinals start series with Padres

The Cardinals' Nolan Gorman, 16, is high-fived by teammate Tommy Edman after hitting a two-run homer in the third inning of a game against the San Diego Padres on Monday, May 30, 2022, at Busch Stadium in St. Louis. It was Gorman's second major-league home run. Photo by Laurie Skrivan, lskrivan@post-dispatch.com

As Nolan Gorman described pitch-by-pitch an at-bat from Monday, a phrase kept popping up.

“First pitch …. not a pitch I’m going to do damage with.”

“Second pitch … not going to do damage with that pitch.”

It was an interesting glimpse into his mindset. As the Cardinals second baseman watches a pitch, it’s as if his decision-making process is binary: Can I do damage or not?

“Yeah, exactly,” Gorman confirmed.

Do damage.

That’s the ambition and the mission. The objective is to obliterate. And on Monday, in his 10th big-league game, the kid hit the two-hardest balls by a Cardinal — his 105.7 mph home run and his 105.4 mph single.

In the 6-3 win against the Padres at Busch Stadium, Gorman reached base in all four plate appearances (he tallied another single and walked). He’s hitting .387 with a 1.149 OPS, and according to the ballplayer who knows him best: “I don't think he's even reached his full potential as far as his ability to hit the ball a long ways yet,” said boyhood buddy and lanky lefty hurler Matthew Liberatore, a fellow Cards rookie. “Not to say that he doesn't do a good job of that already. But I think he's got more in the tank than he has shown already. And I think that's kind of scary to think about, in a good way.

“I mean, every ball that he hit today was absolutely torched. Even his foul balls were like 105 (mph) and straight at me in the dugout — both of the balls came straight at me, but luckily the barrier was in front of me. He just makes loud outs, he makes a lot of loud contact and it's fun to watch.”

That’s the thing — for all the data-driven reasons his promotion to St. Louis is noteworthy, it’s also just exciting to have Gorman on display.

He makes watching the Cardinals more fun. Every time he’s up, it’s a mini-moment, a chance to see the rookie rake. In three of his past eight games, he had at least three hits. With a pinball-flipper of a lefty swing, and damage from that second baseman spot, it brings back memories of a young Matt Carpenter.

They’re not the same player — “Carp” walked a lot more, for instance — but they both pumped out a bunch of extra-base hits from the lefty side of the batter’s box.

Now, with this Nolan, there will be errors. And there will be strikeouts. He’s working on reducing both. But it’s part of the give-and-take, and when the takeaway is damage done, then it’s generally worth it.

And, sure, one can worry about the sustainability of Tommy Edman’s arm at shortstop. But if the worst thing that happens is an Edman throw allows one extra baserunner, but it means five Gorman plate appearances a night, then, yeah, Gorman's cool at second base.

Incidentally, as for the “kid” stuff, he just turned 22 this month. Perhaps you recall he was the first player born in the 2000s to be drafted. He was born the same year Adam Wainwright was drafted. John Mozeliak probably has bow ties older than Gorman.

But the rookie has been a phenom since rookie ball, when he hit 11 homers in just 38 games that summer of 2018. This year, he hit 15 homers in just 34 games in Memphis, and as it was happening, one wondered if he was wasting homers he could’ve been hitting in St. Louis.

Finally, he got the call-up from Class AAA, and with 17 total homers, only two players have more — Aaron Judge of the Yankees (18) and Matt Gorski of the Pirates' Class AA team (18, too).

“My intentions when I was called up was to be able to help his team in any way possible,” the new Cardinal Gorman said. “And I take pride in doing that.”

On Monday afternoon, No. 16 with the birds on the bats swatted the first pitch he faced. With a launch angle of 22 degrees and the exit velocity of 105.4, this had extra bases written all over it … thought Gorman. But the ball perfectly bounced off the wall, and the right fielder made a perfect throws to second. They got Gorman.

Asked what adjustments Gorman could’ve made reading that ball as he reached first, manager Oliver Marmol said: “Stopping.”

That batted ball would’ve been a homer in four Major League Baseball parks, according to the mathematical Twitter feed simply titled: @would_it_dong. But in his next at-bat, Gorman indeed donged. His two-run shot would’ve been a homer in all 30 ballparks, per the Twitter feed.

His third at-bat almost did damage to the well-being of one Richard Keith Clapp. A Gorman foul ball of 104.4 mph sailed above the head of Stubby, the first base coach who, for a rare instance, was perhaps happy he stands only 5 feet 8. Gorman kept battling in the box, looking for another juicy pitch. Instead, he recognized enough pitches with which he couldn’t do damage. He earned a walk, loading the bases.

And in his final at-bat, he took a 95-mph pitch in on the hands and still turned it into a single.

“Just tried to stay short with my swing,” said Gorman, who accomplished the mission by, as he does, doing damage.

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