By Rob Rains
A few observations from the Cardinals first of eight planned intra-squad games on Thursday night at Busch Stadium, leading up to the season opener in two weeks:
*The 119-day layoff since the Cardinals last spring training game on March 12 did not slow down Paul DeJong.
After hitting four homers and producing a .464 average in 28 at-bats in Florida, DeJong picked right up where he left off. He singled in two runs in the first inning and then launched a two-run homer off Andrew Miller in the fourth.
DeJong, moving into the cleanup role vacated by Marcell Ozuna, came through with runners on second and third in the opening inning against Dakota Hudson. DeJong struggled in those situations last season, hitting just .193 in 119 at-bats with runners in scoring position.
“He clearly is in the right place with his plan and being able to execute it,” said manager Mike Shildt. “I’m pleased to see it continue but I’m not surprised at all. There was real clarity to Paul in what he was doing, how he was doing it and why he was doing it. He was intentional about keeping it and continuing to move forward.”
*Kolten Wong said it will be important for the team to get into the mindset of playing games without fans, and this was a good first step.
“It was definitely a little weird, but with fans or not you still have to step in and do your job,” Wong said. “This is a good start for us to kind of see what it’s going to be like. Having a crowd is unbelievable, 40,000 people when they are backing you up is huge, but we grew up playing baseball with no fans. You just have to figure out your mindset of how to switch it on and off.
“It’s a little easier when you have the crowd behind you cheering you on but we’ve played this game since we were little kids. It’s just about going out there and doing your thing.”
Shildt was pleased with the Cardinals’ approach in an environment they will have to adjust to during the season.
“Everything was normal for us in how we like to compete and how we prepare to compete,” Shildt said. “It was good to get lost in the competition, which is going to be important because there’s not going to be that stimulation from our unbelievable fan base.”
*Jack Flaherty allowed one run in his three innings of work and it was somewhat tainted. With a robot umpire calling balls and strikes, Yadier Molina thought Flaherty had Justin Williams struck out in the third, but instead it was called ball four. Singles by Edmundo Sosa and Dexter Fowler loaded the bases before Tommy Edman drove in the run on a fielder’s choice.
The only batter to reach base against Flaherty in the first two innings was Edman, who walked on a 3-2 pitch in the first.
Flaherty threw 43 pitches, 27 for strikes. He allowed the two hits, walked two and struck out two.
*After giving up the two runs in the first, when Kolten Wong and Paul Goldschmidt singled and advanced on a wild pitch before DeJong’s single, Hudson allowed just one baserunner in his final two innings, on a walk. He also threw 43 pitches, 24 for strikes.
*In his first unofficial plate appearance at Busch Stadium, Dylan Carlson drew a walk from Hudson in the second. He also struck out against Miller in the fourth.
Carlson, and John Nogowski, wore white Cardinas jerseys with no numbers on the back. The team traditionally does not wear the white jerseys during spring training and doesn’t like having players get a number on a white jersey until they are officially in the major-leagues for a regular-season game.
*Tyler O’Neill struck out swinging in both of his at-bats, once against Flaherty and once against Daniel Ponce de Leon.
*Goldschmidt singled in both of his at-bats, one off Hudson and the other off Miller leading off the fourth, before DeJong’s home run.
*Harrison Bader reached on a walk in his two plate appearances, but then was caught off first by Molina and thrown out trying to steal second.
*The team will send pitchers through live batting practice on Friday and play the next intrasquad game on Saturday.
Follow Rob Rains on Twitter @RobRains
Photo by AP courtesy of KSDK Sports