It’s late June and the St. Louis Cardinals are sailing along with the best record in the major leagues, but they’re also keeping a close eye on their injured players.
Excluding pitcher Adam Wainwright and first baseman Matt Adams, both of whom are out for the season, the injury list is topped by left fielder Matt Holliday (right quad strain), left-hander Jaime Garcia (left groin cramp), reliever Jordan Walden (right biceps) and minor-league lefty Marco Gonzales (shoulder impingement).
General Manager John Mozeliak provided an update on each before the Cardinals played the Chicago Cubs on Friday in the opener of a nine-game homestand.
On Holliday’s return: “I think we have some dates now out there. I guess I can take the optimistic approach where it might be sooner rather than later. Hopefully, next week we can test him a little bit more. Perhaps (he will return on) the road trip before the All-Star game. If not, it will be after the All-Star game.”
On whether Garcia will make his next start: “He’ll throw a side (Saturday) to really put an exclamation on (his recovery), but we hope so.”
On whether Walden will go on a minor-league rehab before the All-Star game: “There is a chance of that. Obviously, we have 2 1/2 weeks before the All-Star break. So yeah, it would probably be 10 days, if possible.”
On when Gonzales, who hasn’t pitched since May 19, will be ready: “He just began his throwing program, so I think we’ll give it probably another week before we determine if he can join a club. But I do know he threw (Friday) and overall felt good. I don’t know if it was off the mound or not, but I know he responded well.”
Cardinals manager Mike Matheny senses that Holliday is close to rejoining the lineup.
“I heard he told the world he’s going to be playing soon, so that’s good news,” Matheny said. “That’s just going to be one of those where we keep pushing him a little bit and see how he responds. But more than anything, he feels good and he’s excited to see that finish line for him getting back here. That’s not just good for Matt, but good for us.”
Right fielder Jason Heyward began Friday on a .395 tear (17-for-43) with four home runs and 10 RBIs in 11 games since June 13, lifting his average from .252 to .278.
“I think he just found a spot that feels real good,” Matheny said. “The descriptive that we’ve used here for a long time is he looks free. Sometimes a little success brings that confidence and then that frees you up to go.”
Matheny senses that Heyward, who came to St. Louis in an offseason trade with Atlanta for Shelby Miller, has pushed all the talk about looming contract negotiations out of his mind. Heyward can be a free agent at the end of this season.
“You look at a guy coming to a new club, you have all this talk early on about contracts,” Matheny said. “Those are things that can get in the way, as well as trying to find a good rhythm and fighting your way through it. He’s in a good spot right now, and I think it’s exciting to see the kind of player he can be and has been for us. The timing has been spot on.”
Pham, Piscotty earn raves
Outfielder Tommy Pham had an outside chance to make the team in spring training, but a left quad strain in early March put him out of commission for the remainder of camp.
Pham returned June 6 and is batting .339 (19-for-56) with six doubles, two home runs, 16 RBIs and a .418 on-base percentage in 17 games. He also is 4-for-4 in stolen bases.
Don’t expect Pham to join the Cardinals any time soon, however. The Cardinals would prefer he maintain a rhythm in the minor leagues.
“I think it’s really based on need,” Mozeliak said. “The good news for Tommy is he’s back playing, he’s healthy and he’s been extremely productive. So that’s good news all the way across. In terms of if we felt like we needed help, you have him, you have (Stephen) Piscotty playing well. So you definitely have some options.”
Pham is on the 40-man roster, unlike Piscotty. Piscotty is batting .267 with 21 doubles, 10 homers and 33 RBIs in 67 games at Memphis.
“I was down there the other day and he looked great,” Mozeliak said. “He really swung the bat well. Obviously, he’s playing all three outfield positions, so he’s just creating versatility for himself. That’s impressive. They are giving him work at first (base), but it’s more like pregame. We’ll be patient with that one.”
Piscotty has adapted to an overhaul of his swing that was intended to provide more power.
“I think his development is going great,” Mozeliak said. “Now it sort of becomes a need up here. Could be play in the big leagues? The answer is yes. But you don’t want to bring someone up who’s only going to get five at-bats a week. So if the dynamics change in our outfield, he certainly would be someone we would consider. But you also brought up Pham, who’s currently already on the roster. It really just depends on how things look here.”
Cardinals 3, Cubs 2
Peter Bourjos slid across the plate with the winning run on Jhonny Peralta’s grounder to the second-base position in the 10th inning Friday as the Cardinals improved to 27-7 at home. The Cubs had gone to a five-man infield, and Peralta’s roller was fielded by right fielder Mike Baxter, whose throw to the plate sailed. Baxter was charged with an error.
On the mound
Both starters were effective. John Lackey yielded two runs (earned) on eight hits in seven innings. He walked three and struck out five. Jack Arrieta allowed one run (earned) on three hits in seven innings, with two walks and seven strikeouts. Arrieta was saddled with a no-decision when pinch-hitter Greg Garcia clubbed a leadoff homer in the eighth against Pedro Strop. It was Garcia’s first career home run and the first this season for a St. Louis pinch-hitter.
Michael Wacha (9-3, 2.85 ERA) will pitch for the Cardinals against Donn Roach, making his first start of the season. First pitch is 6:15 p.m.