The St. Louis Cardinals have their Memphis shuttle in high gear these days, bringing another fresh shipment of talent to Busch Stadium on Sunday.
Randal Grichuk made his return to the big leagues after a couple of weeks in exile while St. Louis area native Luke Voit made his major-league debut the hard way, getting hit with a 95-mph pitch in his first plate appearance.
While naysayers will point to Grichuk’s two strikeouts and shake their heads in pessimism, the slugging left fielder looked much more locked Sunday than he did before he was shipped out to the minors to retool his swing.
During the at-bat when he eventually struck out the first time, Grichuk fouled off several tough pitches — and laid off the bad ones — before eventually succumbing. A 2-for-5 night that saw Grichuk launch a 478-foot home run, the longest shot hit by a Cardinals player in the 12-year history of Busch Stadium III, is encouraging.
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Hopefully, the improvements to Grichuk’s swing will have some staying power and he’ll have a strong second half of the season like he did last year. The home run was just one hit. But even more troubling than the strikeouts Grichuk was racking up was the fact that they weren’t punctuated by home runs. His shot Sunday was only his fifth of the year in the big leagues.
The Cardinals have guys like Jedd Gyorko and Dexter Fowler who can hit home runs here and there. But what they desperately need is a slugger who can strike fear into the heart of pitchers. Those sorts of guys create opportunities that make the guys around them in the batting order see better pitches to hit.
Whether it was a show of faith or a desperation move, St. Louis manager Mike Matheny took a guy who was buried at the bottom of the batting order before he was sent all the way down to Class A Palm Beach for a long climb back to the big leagues and immediately put him in the cleanup spot in the lineup.
And Grichuk isn’t the only minor-league call-up who is being relied on heavily right now.
Three of the eight starting position players Sunday night, Grichuk, Tommy Pham and Paul DeJong, have all spent time this season at Class AAA Memphis. It’s only a matter of time until Memphis center fielder Harrison Bader is invited to join the fray and third baseman Patrick Wisdom might soon get a shot to contribute, too. Then the Birds could reach down farther into Class AA Springfield where Magneuris Sierra is making a splash.
The Cardinals could use some major league-ready talent from outside the organization, but it’s good seeing these kids get a chance to play. After all, the veterans weren’t cutting it before the roster shuffling began. But if they’re going to be in the major leagues, the prospects need to get a chance to play.
It doesn’t do any good to stunt a young player’s development by parking him on the bench. And if we’re really lucky, the older players will be inspired to play a little bit better to keep one of these youngsters from taking their job away.
The Cardinals, who hit a season-low seven games under .500 Saturday, really don’t have anything to lose. They’re on the periphery of falling out of the playoff hunt all together. So, they can learn a little bit about which of the kids can play and try to find a spark to get the ballclub going at the same time.
If the prospects are able to right the ship, they may cement their careers in St. Louis for years to come.
But if they can’t make things happen, some of the youngsters may find themselves involved in trades to try to get some veteran talent into Busch Stadium.