Former St. Louis Cardinals great Willie McGee isn’t surprised to see the success Tommy Pham and Stephen Piscotty are enjoying in their rookie seasons.
McGee, a special assistant to General Manager John Mozeliak, works with Cardinals minor-league outfielders and reports to Mozeliak on their progress.
“I saw Pham in Double-A two years ago and I said to myself, ‘Man, he’s ready. He can come up here and hold his own,’” McGee said. “He’s gotten a little stronger now.
“Piscotty, that guy works. He didn’t do that from listening to me. That guy gets out there and he puts in his work, and it’s showing. Good player. Smart kid.”
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McGee is careful about not stepping on the toes of any of the Cardinals’ hitting instructors when he spends a few days with a team in the minor leagues.
“I just want to see these kids have a chance to get better,” McGee said. “From top to bottom in this organization, there’s good people. I know my role. I know I’m not the hitting instructor. So when I go down there (to the minors), if I see somebody pulling their head or something, I tell the hitting instructor, ‘Just watch.’ But I don’t mess with (the player).”
McGee most enjoys building relationships with the prospects.
“I sit in the dugouts during the games, and after a while, the kids start coming to you asking you questions,” McGee said. “That’s the part that I love about it. I’m there for four days and I can only hit so many ground balls. I always stress, ‘Come early, leave late.’ It’s just like the stuff we were told because you know it works. Everybody I saw that came early and left late, they were consistent.”
Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said McGee, who threw out a ceremonial first pitch, is a organizational gem.
“He’s real open with what he sees,” Matheny said. “I don’t need to tell most people this, but the guy’s a treasure for this organization. Not just everything he did as a player, but the things that made this fan base love him, he’s taken that same approach to coaching. He’s passionate about it and he’s got that humility to when he walks in, he doesn’t want it to be the Willie McGee show. He wants to make kids better, and it’s 100 percent real.”
McGee, 56, was inducted into the Cardinals Hall of Fame in August 2014. He batted .353 and won the NL Most Valuable Player award in 1985 when the Cardinals went to the World Series.
Shortstop Jhonny Peralta batted .316 in April, but his average has steadily dropped in each subsequent month: .306 in May, .274 in June, .262 in July, .242 in August and .210 in September. Peralta hasn’t homered since Aug. 1, a span of 159 at-bats.
“I’m seeing a guy that’s had a real good season,” Matheny said. “You’re going to have rough stretches no matter how long you’ve been at this game. No matter how good a season you’re having, you’re going to have some of those times where it just doesn’t come as easy.”
“We put him in that part of the order (fourth) for a reason, because he can and will come through. (Monday) night, he did. It was one of the biggest hits of the night.”
Peralta had the game-tying single in the eighth Tuesday, part of a two-run outburst that secured the Cardinals’ 2-1 win over Cincinnati.
Matheny rested Peralta most of Sept. 12, using him only as a pinch-hitter in a 5-1 loss in Cincinnati. Peralta was rested Sept. 13, and the Cardinals were idle Sept. 14. In seven games since then, Peralta is batting .241 (7-for-29) with two doubles and four RBIs.
“Physically, he looks good and he feels good,” Matheny said.
Cruz and Martinez
With Yadier Molina sidelined indefinitely with a partially torn ligament in his left thumb, how will backup catcher Tony Cruz fare in subduing Carlos Martinez’s emotions?
“I wouldn’t minimize the impact that Tony will have, too,” Matheny said. “There’s not a language barrier. There’s not a lack of friendship barrier. So anything you’ve seen Yadi be able to do, Tony’s going to be able to do it, just with less hands-on experience. Tony’s more than equipped and ready, and has been involved.”
Molina helped keep Martinez in the game Sunday when several close pitches didn’t go Martinez’s way. Plate umpire Alfonso Marquez warned Martinez on one occasion after Martinez began walking off the mound, believing he had struck out a hitter.
Matt Adams made his third start at first base Tuesday since he was activated from the disabled list with a strained right quad. Adams had not yet played an entire game.
“He’s close,” Matheny said to Adams’ readiness to play a complete game. “This hasn’t been your typical rehab. We haven’t necessarily been able to put him in for seven, then sit him. We just kind of use him as we can because we’ve got another agenda (winning).”
Cardinals 3, Reds 1
Tommy Pham drove in Tony Cruz with the go-ahead run with a sacrifice fly in the seventh inning and John Lackey (13-9) pitched seven strong innings Tuesday as the Cardinals defeated Cincinnati. Cruz started the seventh with a single against Sam LeCure (0-2). Matt Carpenter singled one out later, sending Cruz to third and setting up Pham's RBI.
By the numbers
Lackey, who walked none and struck out seven, improved to 9-4 with a 1.97 ERA in 16 starts at Busch Stadium ... Carpenter struck out for a team-high 141st time in the first. ... Steve Cishek pitched the ninth for his first save.
Lance Lynn (11-10, 3.28 ERA) vs. Brandon Finnegan (1-0, 1.17 ERA), 7:15 p.m.