St. Louis Cardinals

Grichuk’s stellar play has grabbed Cardinals’ attention

Manager Mike Matheny is not fighting his daily urge to put rookie Randal Grichuk’s name in the St. Louis Cardinals lineup.

Grichuk started in right field over Jason Heyward on Saturday night, despite the Cardinals facing Los Angeles Dodgers right-hander Carlos Frias. Grichuk was batting .333 (15-for-45) since May 16, with six doubles, two triples, one home run and seven RBIs.

Grichuk previously had been on the disabled list for a month with a lower-back strain, but he’s exhibited no lingering effects of the injury since his return two weeks ago.

“I just had to figure out a way to keep somebody going well who’s going well, with Randal,” Matheny said. “Jason’s been swinging it well, too, so it’s not an easy decision. We’re just going to have to kind of keep everybody engaged. That’s really been a strong suit of our club so far this season, being able to keep guys going.”

Grichuk said in spring training that he still considered himself a prospect, an unproven talent at the big-league level. He clearly is evolving into more than that in the Cardinals’ eyes.

“I think he’s getting better, which is an indication he’s developing still,” Matheny said. “But I think we’ve got a pretty good vision of how good he could potentially be. It’s just a matter of him doing it now. And watching, too, when teams get an extended look (at Grichuk), because that’s when you really find out what these guys are all about.”

Grichuk, who was 1-for-3 with an RBI double Friday, is utilizing a “much more mature approach” at the plate compared to last season, according to Matheny.

“He’s got something he’s looking for, whereas last year was a little bit more of, ‘I’m going to be swinging and if I happen to get to it, it’s going to go somewhere,’” Matheny said. “Now it looks like he’s got an idea of what he’s looking for. He’s starting to break down pitchers a little better. I think he’s starting to clean up some of the holes he had before, too, trying to cover pitches in certain counts.”

Asked prior to the season what he would be capable of were he to play regularly, Grichuk said he would be overjoyed with a .270 average, 25 home runs and 85 RBIs. Matheny discounted those numbers, expressing the belief that Grichuk could be much better.

“That’s not a reach. Not at all,” Matheny said. “I think it’s low.

“We talk a lot about goal-setting around here, and there’s nothing wrong with having some individual accomplishments out there. I just don’t want him to cloud things up. Just keep taking good at-bats, keep trying to figure out the league, figure out these pitchers, figure out a good, consistent approach and the numbers will be there.

“If he stays on the field and he gets the opportunities, I think the numbers will be there.”

Particularly in the home-run department.

“When you watch him hit ... and you see a guy who puts it up in the bleachers in right-center field, there’s just not many guys that can do that in the game, even in BP,” Matheny said. “Then you watch the velocity of the ball coming off the bat. There are different qualities he has than other players. It leads you to have these conversations.”

Holliday back in saddle

Hot-hitting Matt Holliday was laid low by flulike symptoms Friday night and was not able to participate in the Cardinals’ 3-0 victory. He was back in the lineup Saturday night, but exited after four innings when he again became ill.

“He’s better today,” Matheny said of his left fielder before the game. “Hopefully, it was just a quick thing and we can get him back out there.”

Holliday was 0-for-1 with a walk, extending his string of reaching base to 44 games, a National League record to start a season.

Jon Jay was in center field, his first starting gig since May 9 because of left wrist tendinitis. After going 0-for-10 in a minor-league rehab stint at low-Class A Peoria, Jay lined a pinch-hit single against Paco Rodriguez on Friday in an at-bat that dazzled Matheny.

“That was definitely reassuring,” Matheny said. “A terrific at-bat. It was a tough assignment.”

“It’s good to have him back, being able to come in and play defense, come in and take a big at-bat for us. It definitely looked like he was swinging the bat without any reservations at all, which is something we were hoping for.”

Contact reporter David Wilhelm at dwilhelm@bnd.com or 618-239-2665. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidMWilhelm.

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