Shortstop Paul DeJong could have said something in those two-plus months he was marooned at Class AAA Memphis, sent there by the Cardinals because he was hitting .130 in St. Louis.
After a slow start, DeJong began hitting lots of home runs. But still nobody was calling his name to return to the big leagues until last weekend, when he rejoined the team in Washington.
DeJong, who has 98 major-league home runs and an All-Star ring, said he saw no reason to pop off.
“I thought it was actually easier as time went on,” he said before Wednesday night’s scheduled game at Busch Stadium was called because of rain. “When I first got there, I was thinking about, ‘How am I going to get back?’ But as time went on, it was like, ‘They’re going to call me back when they want to call me back,’ so I need to focus on what I’m doing here.”
Cardinals manager Oliver Marmol took note that DeJong, who turned 29 on Tuesday, remained mum.
“That speaks to who he is,” Marmol said. “You get a taste of the big leagues for as long as he did — and then they send you down … he didn’t get anxious. He didn’t pop off, didn’t complain. That’s impressive. He earned his way back here.
“We’re a much better team when Paul is Paul.”
This means that of the four middle infielders on the Cardinals — DeJong, Tommy Edman, Nolan Gorman and Brendan Donovan — DeJong might get the most regular time at one position. He has not been told to work at any other position.
“I don’t mind having four guys for two spots,” Marmol said. “It’s better than having one for four spots. We’ll mix and match. But at the moment, I’d like to see DeJong take hold of that shortstop position and be very offensive, just doing what he’s doing now.
“We’re at our best if he can do that, and we’ll mix and match with ‘Eddie’s’ defense and ability to create havoc on the bases and Gorman DH-ing against righties and Donovan will get his time in all spots.”
DeJong homered in each of his first two games and was robbed of a third on Tuesday besides playing flawlessly afield.
The thinking man’s player, sometimes to a fault, DeJong tried to dial everything down at Memphis, including “not getting down on myself when I got out.
“It was a chance for me to play without the pressure of playing up here. Not that any added pressure is here. It’s just that there’s a little more eyes on you,” he said.
DeJong said he was able to play baseball almost in a “natural state. Not doing a ton of video work or scouting myself.”
But Marmol said there surely had to be some adjustments made.
“As smart as he is, he doesn’t like thinking about the mechanics of it,” Marmol said. “But if something is off, at some point, you have to visit it and make an adjustment. There’s some stuff he needed to clean up mechanically, and he’s done a nice job.”
DeJong said being hit by a pitch in his left wrist last month actually was a blessing to him. He could concentrate more on a “clean, efficient swing.” But that clean, efficient swing turned into his power swing, DeJong said, and at 17 homers, he was called back up to assume his old job.
“A lot of things finally lined up after I hurt my wrist,” he said.
DeJong got his corner locker back in the Cardinals’ clubhouse and his same seat on the chartered plane.
“All the amenities around the game — the food and the travel has been amazing,” he said.
Even to the point of sitting on the runway for five hours at an airport in Washington last Sunday night.
“And stepping into a big-league stadium. You almost forget how cool it is,” DeJong said. “All the fans. All the seats. Everything going on. It’s something I really cherish.”
He said he heard many birthday wishes from the big crowd on Tuesday.
“I just felt very welcomed,” he said.
Except by Cubs left fielder Ian Happ, who was rumored to be on his way out of town but instead was around to make a leaping catch to deprive DeJong of his third homer in three games since his recall.
“I guess it just wasn’t in the cards last night,” DeJong said. “I heard I made (ESPN’s) ‘SportsCenter.’ So I guess there was one plus.”
One of the adjustments DeJong had to make as a major-league shortstop was wearing the Pitchcom transmitter under his cap. This doesn’t happen in the minors.
DeJong likes it. “Playing shortstop, I’ve seen a lot of guys steal our signs,” he said. “This Pitchcom … I’m pretty comfortable with it so far.”
By contrast, DeJong doesn’t have to worry now about the pitch clock that is used in the minors. He said he was called for a strike in his first game in the minors when he wasn’t deemed ready in the box and then it happened again.
“But I also got two walks,” he said. “So I think it was a wash.”
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