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Injuries, failures force Cardinals to shake up roster

St. Louis Cardinals third base coach Chris Maloney, left, congratulates pinch-hitter Paul DeJong who circles the bases after hitting a solo home run off Colorado Rockies relief pitcher Greg Holland in the ninth inning of a baseball game Sunday, May 28, 2017, in Denver.
St. Louis Cardinals third base coach Chris Maloney, left, congratulates pinch-hitter Paul DeJong who circles the bases after hitting a solo home run off Colorado Rockies relief pitcher Greg Holland in the ninth inning of a baseball game Sunday, May 28, 2017, in Denver. AP

It’s a shame that it’s happening because of injuries to and shortcomings of regular players. But it’s exciting to see some of the St. Louis Cardinals’ youngsters finally get a shot at showing what they can do in the major leagues.

The latest wrinkle in the Redbirds’ 2017 plans came over the weekend when starting second baseman Kolten Wong was sidelined with an elbow injury. Class AAA infielder Paul DeJong was summoned to fill in. He made his big-league debut Sunday with a home run in his first at-bat at baseball’s highest level.

Hopefully, DeJong’s splashy start will continue, and he’ll add some life to an otherwise listless club in the way that Magneuris Sierra did briefly before being sent back to the minors for further development. Frankly, the way this club has played so far, I wish they’d let the kids stick around for an extended audition. It seems fresh blood couldn’t hurt the team’s chances to make it to the postseason.

The Cardinals are losers of eight of their last 11 games. But when Sierra was in the majors, the Cardinals were 7-1 in the games he played. Without Sierra, who hit .367 in the big leagues, St. Louis is 17-22. Coincidence? I don’t believe Sierra is going to continue to hit like Ty Cobb at the highest level, nor do I overlook the fact that it might be good for his overall development to see more minor league playing time. But he makes things happen with his bat, hit glove and his legs. And not enough of the players on the current 25-man roster can say the same.

DeJong, as an infielder, plays an entirely different role than Sierra. But, while the Redbirds outfield has disappointed with its bats, the infield has flopped at the plate and with its gloves. I give utility man turned starting third baseman Jedd Gyorko a ton of credit for what has been a career year at the plate. But he showed his defensive shortcomings Sunday by failing to make a couple of key plays that ultimately contributed to a Cardinals loss.

Next door, shortstop Aledmys Diaz continues to show a lack of range that would seem to indicate he’s a better fit at third or second than the most vital position on the infield. Wong has played better after an early-season meltdown, but he continues to be fragile with shoulder — and now elbow — problems, and Matt Carpenter is hitting for about the same batting average as fans’ favorite whipping boy, Randal Grichuk.

DeJong, 23, has logged time at second base, third base and shortstop over the course of his career. He was batting .294 with 11 homers and 31 runs batted in for Class AAA Memphis. But his shortcoming is that he managed to work only eight walks while striking out a whopping 45 times. Striking out five times as often as you walk is never a good thing at any level. But the big league team is already piling up the whiffs. So, I don’t see that DeJong could make that aspect of the Cardinals’ play any worse.

I’d like to see if DeJong can play better shortstop than Diaz, who ought to move to second base in Wong’s absence to see how he fits there. Strengthening this team up the middle could do wonders for eliminating the one or two back-breaking errors per game that are costing the Redbirds wins.

Speaking of things that cost the St. Louis club games, the team finally shipped out awful reliever Miguel Socolovich (0-1, 8.68 ERA) in favor of minor league assistance in the bullpen. John Brebbia has 1/3 of an inning of work under his belt in the big leagues. So, we’ll have to reserve judgment. But it’s safe to say he couldn’t be any worse than the guy he replaced.

Meanwhile, the Birds have a ton of other players who are making a case for their shot at helping the big club in St. Louis. Outfielder Harrison Bader is hitting .292 with eight homers for the season and is batting .375 with two homers in his last 10 games for Class AAA Memphis. Catcher Carson Kelly is hitting .321 with seven homers for Memphis. First baseman Luke Voit is tearing up Class AAA pitching with a .324 average and eight home runs. Memphis starting pitcher Luke Weaver is 4-1 with a 1.97 ERA and has struck out 29 Class AAA batters in 32 innings while walking four.

If the guys on the big league roster can’t cut it, let’s see some of these hungry youngsters get a chance.

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