Left fielder Matt Holliday suffered disabling injuries to his right quadriceps and played a career-low 73 games in 2015. On Friday, he turned 36.
Reason for concern? Not at all, according to St. Louis Cardinals manager Mike Matheny.
“I think you’re going to see a ridiculous year from Matt Holliday,” Matheny said Monday at the Cardinals’ 20th annual Winter Warm-Up. “I’m not putting any pressure (on him) that he doesn’t put on himself every single year.”
Matheny said Holliday is “able to do things other people can’t” at the plate, and he is convinced Holliday will be motivated after batting .279 with four homers and 35 RBIs in 73 games last season. All of his home runs came away from Busch Stadium.
“He’s a lot like Kolten (Wong, the Cardinals’ second baseman). He starts thinking, ‘All right. How can I maybe make some adjustments to help our club even more?’” Matheny said. “You throw all that together with a guy with talent, and then the motivation of not being able to have the season that he’s accustomed to having, it’s going to be fun to watch him this year.
“We’ve just got to keep him on the field. We all talk about it at this time of year, we’ll talk about it all through spring: It’s about health. ... I’m anxious to watch Matt.”
Infielder Jedd Gyorko is going from one pitcher’s park to another.
The 27-year-old Gyorko, who was traded from the San Diego Padres to the Cardinals for outfielder Jon Jay on Dec. 8, has seen many well-struck drives fall short of the warning track in spacious Petco Park, balls that might have carried out of other stadiums.
Hitters for the last decade have lamented Busch Stadium for being unfriendly toward offense, but Gyorko said it’s no comparison to Petco.
“Any ballpark other than Petco is a little better as far as hitters,” said Gyorko, who batted .247 with 16 home runs and 57 RBIs in 128 games in 2015. “It can (bother you) a little bit. You try not to think about it. You just go out there and try to hit the ball hard.
“But there are certain times when you get a ball pretty good and you think it’s got a chance and it gets caught, it can be demoralizing sometimes.”
Gyorko has batted .262 (11-for-42) with two homers and nine RBIs in 11 games at Busch Stadium, a place he always looked forward to visiting.
“I’ve always enjoyed playing here,” Gyorko said. “It’s one of the places I would always circle. I like playing at Busch. I think the fans always bring the best out of you every single day. It’s good place to be and I’m looking forward to it. It’s a great atmosphere. Baseball players like to be around baseball people, and I don’t think you’re going to find anywhere else in the country that has more baseball people than St. Louis. I’m looking forward to it and I’m excited.
“It’s a great opportunity. Any time you join a team that won 100 games, that’s OK.”
Gyorko is expected to play occasionally at third base, shortstop and second base. Gyorko excelled against left-handers last season, batting .282 with a .445 slugging percentage. Second baseman Wong struggled to a .229 average against lefties.
“I’m just going to go out and play hard, whenever the opportunities come,” Gyorko said. “I’m not sure where they’re going to be yet, but when they present themselves, I’m going to be ready and I’m going to play hard. That’s all I can do.”
Moving around on the infield is “definitely going to be more important than it ever has in my career up to this point,” Gyorko said.
“I think it sounds like I’m going to be moving around a little bit, which is fine,” he said. “Any way to get on the field, any way to help the team, is great. I’m pretty comfortable with anywhere on the infield.”
Gyorko will wear No. 3, although he said it has no significance.
“It’s just a number,” he said. “It doesn’t really matter what the number is. You don’t see it anyway. It’s on your back. It’s about the name on the front.”
Matheny said he doesn’t pay attention to which teams are considered to be favorites and which teams are considered to be underdogs heading into a season.
The general consensus is the Cardinals are NL Central underdogs this season to the Chicago Cubs. Matheny didn’t dispute the notion, but said his team will be a factor.
“We have lofty goals for what our expectations are for this club,” he said. “We’re paid to win. We’re not going to make that a secret and we’re not going to apologize for that. ... I’m going to tell you something they have: I’m sensing an edge to this club already. You take talent and mix that kind of fire, heads up. This is a group driven for more. That’s a nice place to be.”
New rotation member Mike Leake sees the Cardinals, Cubs and Pittsburgh Pirates battling for the division championship.
“I think it’s kind of going through a change right now,” said Leake, who pitched for Cincinnati and San Francisco last year before signing a free-agent contract with St. Louis. “There’s definitely us and the Cubs that are kind of the main fighters, and you’ve got the Pirates that are going to stay in there and try to compete with us.
“The other two (Cincinnati, Milwaukee) are kind of in the works of trying to become a better team. I think we’ll see three teams competing rather than four or five the last few years.”
Leake said the Cubs are more dangerous than the Pirates.
“You’ve got young boppers with the Cubs, guys that can hurt you a lot more,” Leake said. “The Pirates are a scrappier offense that has to kind of put a few hits together in order to produce something. They have a little bit of power in their lineup in the middle, but really all the positions with the Cubs can produce a home run if you’re living in the middle (of the plate).”
Leake likes to do a little hitting, too. Although he batted just .116 last year, he is a career .212 hitter with six homers and 23 RBIs. Like another pitcher, teammate Adam Wainwright, Leake is not a proponent of the NL adopting the designated hitter rule.
“I am anti (-DH), yes,” Leake said. “I don’t think the DH is is the solution for both leagues. I think it should be separate. The AL is the AL and the NL is the NL.”
“I just think it adds to the game (for the pitcher to hit). You have to think more as a manager, you have to keep yourself in the game as a pitcher. If you’re not a good hitter you might get pulled early out of games. So you have to have at least some pride in your hitting.”
Martinez flies solo
Pitcher Carlos Martinez, who always has used a translator during his interviews with the media, on Monday spoke with reporters in English for more than seven minutes.
Martinez requested that questions be asked slowly, and several times he asked that they be repeated so he could understand all of the words.
Shortstop Jhonny Peralta stood a few feet away to translate for Martinez if Martinez was unable to speak clearly enough in English to be understood. Peralta wasn’t needed.
“I try every day to learn a couple of words,” Martinez said. “That’s why I’m here right now. I just try to speak a lot with my teammates, with (Matheny) and everybody. I just try to learn some words every day.”
Martinez, who was shut down in September with a strained shoulder, said he’s about 90 percent healthy and will be ready for full participation in spring training.
“It’s getting better. I’ll be ready for the season,” Martinez said.
After the interview, Martinez seemed pleased and relieved, smiling widely and hugging a member Melody Yount of the Cardinals’ public-relations staff.
Tale of two halves
Peralta has played two seasons for the Cardinals and still is looking for consistency.
Although Peralta’s overall numbers have been acceptable, he has not been able to string together solid first and second halves.
In 2014, Peralta batted .253 with 14 homers and 44 RBIs in the first half, then batted .276 with seven homers and 31 RBIs in the second half.
Last year, the 33-year-old batted .298 with 13 homers and 46 RBIs before the All-Star break, then slumped to .243 with four homers and 25 RBIs in the second half.
“In the beginning of the season, I felt really good,” Peralta said of 2015. “Everything was working out how I wanted. The second half was kind of different. I don’t know how to explain it. For me, I felt the same in the second half as in the first half. Maybe the pitchers prepared better for me.”
Closer Trevor Rosenthal set a Cardinals record with 48 saves last season and became the first reliever in franchise history to record back-to-back seasons with at least 45 saves.
How can Rosenthal be better in 2016?
“You always want to beat your own record,” Rosenthal said. “That would be a cool thing to do, especially at this point looking ahead. I haven’t had a whole lot of time to let it sink in, the magnitude of something like that. To be on a list with a lot of great names is pretty special for me.”