Struggling center fielder Randal Grichuk on Saturday was optioned to Class AAA Memphis by the St. Louis Cardinals.
The move was announced before the game against the Texas Rangers, in which Kolten Wong started in center field for the first time in his career.
Grichuk, 24, was batting .206 with eight home runs and 27 RBIs in 62 games. His 54 strikeouts in 225 plate appearances lead the Cardinals.
“Grich was having a hard time getting going,” Cardinals General Manager John Mozeliak said. “Sending him down to Memphis will allow him to play every day and hopefully he can get himself going. We still have high expectations for him and we still think we’re a better team with him a part of the St. Louis Cardinals.”
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Tommy Pham, 28, was recalled from Memphis. Pham, who suffered a strained left oblique in the season opener April 3 in Pittsburgh, was batting .250 with four homers and 19 RBIs at Memphis and Class AA Springfield. Pham finished strong Friday, going 2-for-4 with a home run and three RBIs in Memphis’ 7-6 win over Iowa.
“I need to be a tough out and just focus 100 percent so I can give myself the best opportunity to succeed,” Pham said. “It surprised myself how long it took me to get going down in Memphis. I’ve had success there in previous years, so when you have success, your expectations are sky-high. It shocked me that I struggled a little bit until recently.”
Pham and Wong could share time in center field until Grichuk works through the difficulties that were becoming more of a mental strain.
“He was just never able to really get on track,” Mozeliak said of Grichuk. “I thought he was making some nice adjustments. He was getting more walks. But clearly, strikeouts and lack of power were things that were starting to stick out.”
Matheny said Grichuk, who was just 5-for-48 (.104) since May 29, received news of his demotion Saturday morning.
“He was disappointed because he wants to be a part of this team,” Matheny said. “He also understands that we’re about at the point that we might have to take some of his playing time, and he needed to go figure it out. This is a tough place to figure things out. ... We love having him on our team. We’ll try to figure out how to keep him here, but he has to be right. Where he is right now isn’t where he wants to be.
“We’re making sure we give him every chance we can to get him going. I think this is going to be something that will allow him to go get some swings on a consistent basis.”
He was disappointed because he wants to be a part of this team. He also understands that we’re about at the point that we might have to take some of his playing time, and he needed to go figure it out. This is a tough place to figure things out.
Cardinals manager Mike Matheny on center fielder Randal Grichuk being optioned to Class AAA Memphis
Matheny still believes Grichuk can be a “superstar player.”
“I don’t say that about many young players,” Matheny said. “But just the skill set he has, what he has the potential to do, he could be a superstar. He’s got some holes and he’s going to have to fix them. But I’m really impressed with Randal as a kid, as a professional and how he goes about his business, as person. The way the ball jumps off his bat is very, very unique.”
Matheny doesn’t totally agree with the concept that Grichuk thinks too much as a player, rather than enable his reactions and instincts take over.
“There’s a lot of people that believe you can kind of have that paralysis by analysis,” Matheny said. “They think somebody can go out there and just not think (while playing). I don’t think that’s a real accurate statement. I think you do have to get to the point where you’re processing and putting a plan together. That higher-level thinking is really what separates guys at this level from maybe the minor-league level.
“At the big-league level, (opponents) have dissected you. You better be able to make those adjustments, and the adjustments are basically forethought and trying to figure out, ‘OK, this is what I’m doing. These are my holes. This is where I’m getting kind of beat up. How can I fix it?’ That’s a conscious thought.”
Wong takes center stage
Wong was optioned to Memphis on June 6 after batting .222 with one homer and five RBIs in 49 games with the Cardinals. During his time in Memphis, Wong made the conversion to center field, a position he played as a freshman at the University of Hawaii.
Wong started three games in center field in Memphis and gathered himself at the plate, batting .429 (12-for-28) with four home runs and 11 RBIs in seven games. He was recalled Friday when outfielder Jeremy Hazelbaker was optioned to the Redbirds.
I’m excited for the opportunity to be out there. I’ve broadened my horizons as a player and (I can) show the Cardinals and whoever else that I can play other places other than second.
Converted center fielder Kolten Wong
“I’m anxious and excited to watch Kolten after he’s worked with this,” Matheny said. “We’ll try to give him a chance to prove he can do it at this level. He needs some repetition. He’s had them in college, so he’s not completely foreign to it. And he looked good in Memphis.”
Wong, who still could see occasional time at second base, was glad he didn’t have to wait long to be exposed to center field in Busch Stadium.
“It’s going to take me a couple of fly balls to get used to it and I’ll be ready,” Wong said. “I’m excited for the opportunity to be out there. I’ve broadened my horizons as a player and (I can) show the Cardinals and whoever else that I can play other places other than second.”
Clearly, the Cardinals want Wong in their lineup. He provides the team with desperately needed speed and the ability to go first to third on a single or first to home on a double. Few other players in the Cardinals’ everyday lineup have that ability.
“The key for Kolten is we’ve got to try to find him at-bats,” Mozeliak said. “Wherever we do that, whether it be (at) second base, outfield, it’s all about being creative.”
Wong borrowed teammate Jacob Wilson’s glove in Memphis, but had an outfielder’s glove shipped to him Thursday in Memphis and played one game with it before being recalled.
“Rawlings sent me one, it came in and I threw it in the microwave for 40 seconds and took it out to the field,” Wong said. “It was ready to go.”