By Rob Rains
The Cardinals will give the ball to their most veteran starter to resume their season on Saturday, welcome their top prospect to the starting lineup and play their first game with a coaching staff revamped because of the COVID-19 outbreak.
Manager Mike Shildt addressed all those topics and more in a zoom call with the media on Friday night after he drove the 41st and final rental car in the team’s caravan north on Interstate 55 from St. Louis to Chicago.
Adam Wainwright will start the first game of the doubleheader against the White Sox, and Dylan Carlson will be in the Cardinals lineup hitting sixth as he makes his major-league debut. Shildt did not specify where Carlson will be playing in the outfield.
The team will be without coach Willie McGee, who decided on Friday to opt out of the rest of the season and return home to be with his family in California.
“I talked to Willie and really encouraged him,” Shildt said. “It was a hard decision for Willie but we thought it was the best move for Willie and he agreed reluctantly. He was able to go home.”
Jose Oquendo will return to coaching third base in place of Pop Warner and Russ Steinhorn, the minor league hitting coordinator, will take over as the team’s lead hitting coach in place of Jeff Albert.
Shildt said the absences of the coaches other than McGee will be of a short-term nature, based on health.
Following Saturday’s doubleheader, the Cardinals and White Sox will play a single game on Sunday before the Cardinals shift to the north side of Chicago to take on the Cubs starting on Monday for what will now he a five-game series in three days with doubleheaders on Monday and Wednesday.
Jack Flaherty, who has not pitched since opening day on July 24, tentatively is scheduled to start one of the games on Wednesday.
“I’m pretty comfortable that within the next five days every pitcher will get more than an opportunity,” Shildt said. “It won’t come at the expense of our health, but somebody’s got to pitch the innings. We’ve got a lot of innings and a lot of baseball. We’re excited about it.”
One thing Shildt will not do is complain about the schedule, which now features 11 seven-inning doubleheader games in the final 44 days of the season as the Cardinals try to make up as many of the 14 postponed games as possible.
“The easiest thing in the world to do is complain,” Shildt said. “Winners don’t complain, they find solutions, and that’s the mindset of this group individually and collectively. There’s been a ton of challenges for this group over the last couple, three weeks but we accept them and move forward.”
The Cardinals have only played five games this season and have not played since July 29 because of the COVID-19 outbreak that has sidelined 10 players and also affected eight staff members.
The team has had only two workouts since their last game, although Shildt said the Cardinals were able to get players, especially pitchers, on the field at Busch Stadium this week for individualized workouts.
Pitchers had brief throwing sessions on Friday before driving to Chicago. The team elected to have player drive their own rental cars to get one more day apart and hopefully keep the virus from spreading before coming together on Saturday.
Shildt said he purposely wanted to be the last one to leave Busch Stadium and make the drive north.
“I told Ernie Moore, our traveling secretary, that I will take the last car that nobody wants,” Shildt said. “I got a Yukon. I was the last one to leave and I wanted to be sure that if somebody had something going on on the highway I could stop and pick them up.
“It took me back to some grassroots days of Legion ball and driving three hours to playoff games and tournament, all kinds of fun stuff. I thought it was great.”
Follow Rob Rains on Twitter @RobRains
Photo by AP courtesy of KSDK Sports