St. Louis Cardinals

Embattled Wong doesn’t get Opening Day start

Cardinals Manager Mike Matheny on his Kolten Wong decision

St. Louis Cardinals Manager Mike Matheny on his decision to not start second baseman Kolten Wong on the Opening Day game pitting the St. Louis Cardinals against the 2016 World Series Champion Chicago Cubs.
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St. Louis Cardinals Manager Mike Matheny on his decision to not start second baseman Kolten Wong on the Opening Day game pitting the St. Louis Cardinals against the 2016 World Series Champion Chicago Cubs.

Kolten Wong, who said in spring training that he would rather be traded than be a part of a platoon at second base, was not in the St. Louis Cardinals’ starting lineup Sunday.

Manager Mike Matheny instead played the percentages, starting right-handed-hitting Jedd Gyorko against Chicago Cubs left-hander Jon Lester.

Wong said Matheny told him about his decision Saturday.

“It kind of made sense just how Jedd’s been swinging the bat,” said Wong, a left-handed hitter. “Left on left is obviously something I’ve struggled with in the past. I kind of knew it was coming. It’s all good. I appreciate that from Mike, communicating that (decision) with me. All you can ask for is communication and he’s done an amazing job with that.”

Wong is a .247 career hitter against left-handed pitchers. Last season, Wong batted .242 against left-handers and .239 against right-handers.

Wong said he’s behind any decision that will help the Cardinals succeed.

“At the end of the day, man, it’s all about getting off on the right foot and trying to bring back a ring,” Wong said. “Mike’s my manager and I’m going to stand behind him and what his decision is. He decided to go with Jedd. It is what it is. I’ll be ready when my time (comes).

“I kind of knew it was coming just because (Lester) was starting. It’s not my last season. I’ve got a lot more coming. There’s definitely a lot of at-bats to go around. There’s 100-and-something games that we’ve got to play. There’s going to be times when I’m going to be in there and some times I’m not going to be in there. I understand. It comes with the territory.”

Asked whether Matheny’s decision to play Gyorko, who hit 30 home runs last season to lead the Cardinals, gave him added motivation, Wong replied: “I don’t need any more motivation, man. I’ve got enough with me to last me the rest of my life, so I’m good to go.”

General Manager John Mozeliak said the Cardinals are trying to be transparent with Wong.

“We’re not hiding from the fact that we want him to take hold of that position, but you look at how people have played ... You always want spring training to have some relevancy,” Mozeliak said, referring to Wong’s .192 (10-for-52) average in spring. “It’s not something where you just show up, go home and if you don’t do well, it’s a guarantee you’re going to get something.

“In his case, just go out and play well. If you go out and play well, things will have a way of working themselves out. That’s what I hope happens.”

Wong said his comment about being unhappy with a possible platoon “was just emotion, being a competitor and wanting to go out there and be with the team every single day.”

“If that’s wrong on me, so be it,” Wong said. “But I’m going to go out there and I want to win. I think me being out there, I’m going to play as hard as I possibly can every single day. That’s what I do. Today is not my day. Lester (is) on the mound, Jedd (is) swinging the bat (with) how he’s been doing. I’m behind Jedd, and I’m behind Mike and his decisions. We’re going to go and we’re going to do what we can to win.”

Wong is the Cardinals’ best defensive second baseman, but Mozeliak said the 26-year-old must learn how to avoid letting a poor at-bat affect his play in the field

“I’m still very bullish on Kolten as a defender,” Mozeliak said. “But trying to strike that balance between what you’re seeing defensively and what you’re seeing offensively ... With him, ‘Do you take some of those at-bats out on the field?’ That’s what we need to make sure we avoid.”

Cardinals manager Mike Matheny discounts Wong’s spring-training statistics.

“He’s going to hit,” Matheny said. “I don’t think there’s any question about it, and I think he’s going to do it at a very high level. The defense, the way he runs the bases, the way he plays the game, bringing some life and energy to something, that’s what we can control for the most part. Make sure you have that every single day.”

During the Cardinals’ Winter Warm-Up in January, Wong said he had a block on his shoulder, not a chip, about how the 2016 season played out. Wong at one point was optioned to Class AAA Memphis, then spent time playing the outfield upon his return.

Is the block still there?

“I don’t know. You’ll find out,” Wong said.

David Wilhelm: 618-239-2665, @DavidMWilhelm

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