The St. Louis Cardinals’ starting first baseman in April will likely be the candidate swinging the hottest bat in March.
For Matt Adams and Brandon Moss, that battle could come down to which player has best recovered from injury.
Adams was the opening day starter at first last year, but a quadriceps injury cost him much of the 2015 season. He played in only 43 games before undergoing surgery and missed three months in the middle of the campaign. Adams hit only one of his five home runs in the final month.
“I started to feel like I was going through spring training all over again,” Adams said.
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With Adams sidelined, St. Louis traded for Moss, a player mired in his own disappointing season after undergoing hip surgery prior to 2015. The surgery was successful, but Moss said he never really regained the strength in his legs, which disrupted his swing.
“I feel like your best swing is always going to be your most natural swing,” said Moss, who hit .225 with 19 homers and 58 RBIs between Cleveland and St. Louis last season. “When you have to make certain changes and certain adjustments off the bat, then you can make them, but when you completely change things because of an injury or because you’re not as strong, then it’s harder to maintain those swings. Then once you lose it, it’s really hard to find it.”
Both players said they were pain free Tuesday for the Cardinals’ first full squad workout.
“They both look good,” Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said.
Moss signed a one-year contract in the offseason and intends to spend the next few weeks taking advantage of his reacquired strength.
“I definitely know, for me, it’s just about finding that swing and finding those mechanics that eluded me so much last year – and finding the confidence,” Moss said. “Last year there was so much focus on being healthy and seeing how that hip was going to respond. Everything revolved around that.”
Whether it’s from Adams, Moss or some other player, the Cardinals need power from their first baseman. They got just 18 homers from the position last season, third worst in the National League behind Colorado and San Diego.
Both Adams and Moss are capable of providing that jolt.
Adams hit 17 homers in 319 plate appearances in 2013, but failed to reach that total in either year that followed. Moss has hit as many as 30 in a season and two other times hit more than 20, including 25 in his 2014 All-Star season. Unlike Adams, Moss can also play the outfield and will likely double as the Cardinals’ fifth outfielder.
Both players swing from the left side, so a platoon isn’t an option. If Matheny desires a right-handed bat at first, he could turn to Stephen Piscotty, a 24-year-old who played in 63 games last season as a rookie. Piscotty figures to be the Cardinals everyday starter in right field.
And, of course, there’s always the Matt Holliday experiment to consider. Prior to the start of camp, the veteran left fielder tried his glove at first base. That transition — if it ever happens — isn’t expected to come this season.
“We’ve been going real soft with this from our angle – letting Matt do what he wants to do right now and just kind of watching to see how it looks and not forcing anything at this point,” Matheny said.