By Rob Rains
Mike Matheny admitted Friday that when he saw Paul DeJong trot to first base Thursday night after being hit by a pitch, he stopped worrying about whether DeJong might be injured.
It was a couple of hours later, after the game, that he and DeJong both were surprised with the news that the Cardinals’ shortstop had broken his left hand.
“The proof was sitting right in front of you and apparently you didn’t need to be very educated in reading the results of the X-ray to see that it wasn’t right,” Matheny said.
“You’re always worried when guys get hit in the wrist or the hand, knowing it’s fragile,” he said. “To be honest with you when he got to first base I didn’t think much about it because he didn’t think much about it. … It actually kind of went past us because he handled the pain as well as he did.”
DeJong actually never flinched when he was hit, and the play initially was called a foul ball before a video replay clearly showed he had been hit on his left hand.
Matheny said looking at DeJong’s eyes as they talked at home plate he sensed DeJong was either mad or concerned.
“The guys were razing him pretty hard from the dugout about something they teach you in Little League – even if it’s close act like you get hit,” Matheny said. “We were down four runs. He’s a gamer, he just wants to play.”
DeJong stayed in the game, and even got another at-bat in the ninth inning – lining out to shortstop.
“Pretty amazing,” Matheny said. “I think you’re seeing kind of the makeup of Paul DeJong. We know he’s special by how he’s going about his business. He’s tough. He wanted to be part of that game and thought he was going to do something big.
“He knew it was sore, felt weak, but was probably more surprised than anybody else (that his hand was broken) but we were all surprised.”
DeJong was scheduled to undergo surgery on Friday night, and doctors were expected to put a plate in his hand to speed up the healing process. John Mozeliak, the president of baseball operations, said that without that surgery, and plate, DeJong’s expected recovery time likely would have been eight to 12 weeks.
Until he had a chance to talk to the doctors after the surgery, Mozeliak said he did not want to predict how long DeJong will be out.
“Based on his reaction (after being hit) I didn’t even think he was hurt,” Mozeliak said. “Tough kid obviously, pain tolerance not normal. Unfortunately that doesn’t change the outcome.”
Yairo Munoz was recalled from Memphis and will get some of the playing time at shortstop, his natural position, along with Jedd Gyorko, who started there on Friday night for the first time since 2016.
Part of the decision about who plays, Matheny and Mozeliak both said, will be based on how the team’s offense is performing.
“Given our offensive struggles at this point, we’re just trying to get another bat into the lineup,” Mozeliak said. “We’ll see how it goes.”
DeJong, 24, had been the only Cardinal to play in all 41 games this season. He was hitting .260 and was tied for the team lead with eight homers, driving in 19 runs.
“Huge disappointment,” Mozeliak said. “He was making a lot of positive adjustments at the plate and defensively he was holding his own. Unfortunately, the kind of season we’re having, we’re definitely dealing with these speed bumps as they come. The morale and how we have to approach it is the next man up mentality, but clearly disappointing news.”
The Cardinals also placed Matt Bowman on the DL on Friday and now have eight players on the 10-day DL and two, Alex Reyes and Adam Wainwright, on the 60-day disabled list. There are 35 players occupying lockers in the clubhouse, where there are 42 lockers available – something you normally see after rosters expand in September.
Among the injured are two starting position players, (Yadier Molina and DeJong), the opening-day starter (Carlos Martinez), their long-time pitching ace (Wainwright) and four relievers expected to fill key roles in the bullpen.
“A lot of adjectives come to mind; disappointing, frustrating, tough to navigate,” Mozeliak said. “That part is a struggle for us to manage, but there is no pity party for us. We’re going to play a game tonight and our expectations are to win it. The guys we roll out there we expect to play at a major-league level.”
Matheny, the ultimate optimist, had the same attitude about the latest injury.
“I love the challenge our club has in front of us right now,” Matheny said. “I believe any of the doubt that is out there right now about what we can do is an insult. We take it that way. We’ve got guys who are completely capable of going out there and doing special things. … … There’s so much room for us to climb and grow and get better. I can’t wait to watch it happen.”
Follow Rob Rains on Twitter @RobRains