St. Louis Cardinals

Relationship between Fowler and Matheny has frosted Cardinals' clubhouse

Outfielder Dexter Fowler gets rounds of high fives in the dugout after scoring a run during a spring training game in Jupiter, Florida.
Outfielder Dexter Fowler gets rounds of high fives in the dugout after scoring a run during a spring training game in Jupiter, Florida.

Dexter Fowler arrived in St. Louis in the offseason of 2016 with the reputation as a popular teammate.

That much appears to have held true through a season and a half in the Cardinals' clubhouse, even though his relationship with the manager has been strained.

Mark Saxon of "The Athletic" Friday cited multiple sources who say Fowler and Mike Matheny barely talk and haven't for months. That revelation comes the day after Fowler returned from a three-day paternity leave during which he witnessed the birth of his second daughter, Ivy Noor.

It was while he was away that John Mozeliak, the Cardinals president of baseball operations, called out Fowler for his on-field effort during a podcast with team broadcaster Dan McLaughlin.

"I've also had a lot of people come up to me and question his effort and his energy level," Mozeliak said. "You know, those are things I can't defend ...

"What I can defend is trying to create opportunities for him, but not if it's at the expense of someone who's out there hustling and playing hard."

To that point, Saxon reported, Mozeliak had defended Fowler and been a strong proponent of letting him play through his struggles this season.

Since Mozeliak's comments went public, Matheny has been asked about Fowler's effort level. He hasn't provided a straight answer.

Fowler is currently batting .171 with a .275 on-base and .276 slugging percentage. He's also committed four errors in the outfield over 67 games. The emergence of rookie Harison Bader, meanwhile, has eaten into his playing time, as has an attempt to move Jose Martinez off of first base, where he has struggled defensively. Martinez leads the Cardinals in both batting average and runs batted in.

In his first season of a five-year, $82.5 million contract with the Cardinals, Fowler was as good as advertised with career highs in home runs (18), RBIs (64) and slugging percentage (.488) He also reached base at a .363 clip.

Last spring, the Cardinals shifted Fowler from center field to right, to accommodate the acquisition of left fielder Marcell Ozuna and team MVP Tommy Pham.

Fowler admitted to Saxon that his stay with the Cardinals has, thus far, been up and down "to say the least." He bristled at the suggestion his effort was less than 100 percent and insisted his numbers would improve given the playing time.

"I've struggled before, but I've gotten at-bats," he said. "When you don't get at-bats, it's tough to accept another position, another job."