SAN FRANCISCO — When they stopped the musical chairs approach to the outfield this week — round and round they went with matchups as their backbeat — the Cardinals said the goal was to create less day-to-day uncertainty and give players a chance to find their “rhythm.”
From rhythm, the team hopes to get percussion.
“What we want to see out of someone in our outfield is power,” said John Mozeliak, president of baseball operations. “Slug matters.”
Rookie Alec Burleson provided it Thursday afternoon with a solo homer toward McCovey Cove that broke a scoreless tie. Burleson’s homer sent the Cardinals toward a 6-0 victory against the Giants at Oracle Park and put his slugging percentage that much closer to what the Cardinals expect from him. Because as they’ve made decisions this past week to demote top prospect Jordan Walker and commit to Burleson as a corner outfielder, the Cardinals have sided with expected thump.
To them, projections matter.
“We like his at-bats, he takes a competitive at-bat, he has a play, and executes on his plan,” manager Oliver Marmol said of Burleson. “In this game, sometimes you can execute your plan and you still don’t get the result as far as game-planning and having an idea of what people are trying to do to him and combatting that. He’s done a really nice job with that.”
Burleson began Thursday’s game with a .232 average, a .406 slugging percentage, and a .699 OPS — all of them below average. What the Cardinals cling to is the bad luck he’s powered into. They can measure, over time, what his swing, the exit velocity it generates, and the angle of the hits it produces will translate to slugging and batting average. According to Baseball Savant, Burleson’s expected batting average is .264, his expected slugging .437.
The Cardinals point to his Batting Average on Balls in Play (BABIP) of .246, and how when it normalizes toward the industry standard .300 so will his slug.
“I think when you look at our club, one of the things that we like about him a lot is just his bat-to-ball skills,” Mozeliak said. “He does hit the ball hard. We want to see if that’s something he can build on. We think he’s a talented guy with a lot of offensive upside.”
Walker made his Class AAA debut Thursday night, and shortly after the move with the 20-year-old prospect, Marmol met with the remaining outfielders. He sought to answer what Mozeliak said was a question outfielders were wondering in the clubhouse: “What is my role?” The plan is to start Lars Nootbaar in center, Tyler O’Neill in left, and Burleson in one of the corner spots depending on who else is in the lineup. Dylan Carlson, who closed Thursday’s game in center, will get matchup starts and defensive assignments.
Part of the meeting was addressing the defensive expectations of the group. Burleson, a two-way player in college, has the arm, but is gaining experience.
“Is he the most athletic one out there? The answer is no,” Marmol said. “So, he’s going to have to do all the small things well. Throw to the right bases. And being in the right spot. But is he playable out there? Yes.”
The question of how much he’ll play out there was already answered.
“That’s the key to all of this — being able to give them the consistent at-bats and throw out a similar lineup every day to allow them to get into a rhythm,” Marmol said. “Hopefully, someone does run away with it, and you go from there. This is a chance for them to go out there with a little more consistency.”
Wainwright heads to Durham
Adam Wainwright will make one more stop along the minor-league map before returning to the Cardinals’ rotation, as early as the team’s next home stand. Wainwright will start Sunday for Class AAA Memphis in Durham, North Carolina, and his assignment is to throw 90 pitches and be healthy at the end of it. That will set him up to be ready for 90 pitches for his first big-league start of the season, possibly against Detroit at Busch Stadium.
Wainwright opened the year on the injured list with a strain near his groin that happened while working out in the World Baseball Classic. He threw 74 pitches in slightly less than five innings for Class AA Springfield this past week and held his velocity, close to 89 mph.
“Stuff-wise, it’s what we needed to see as far as what his pitchers are doing and the velo is consistent with what we expected it to be,” Marmol said. “So, positive.”
A Goldy State
With his two homers, double, and four hits in Wednesday’s late-night loss, Paul Goldschmidt continued his climb as one of the most successful opposing hitters to ever visit San Francisco. The three extra-base hits Wednesday gave him 44 in his career at the Giants’ ballpark, and since the Giants moved west in 1958 only Hall of Fame great Hank Aaron has more (51).
Goldschmidt extended his streak of reaching base at San Francisco to 29 games with a walk in the third inning Thursday afternoon. That is the 10th-longest ever at the ballpark by any player, including Giants. (Barry Bonds has streaks of 52, 50, and 44.) Goldschmidt’s 15 homers at Oracle are the most by any opponent, and his 1.021 OPS is second in the ballpark to Bonds’ 1.289 in his home games.
Cardinals All-Star Dick Groat (1930-2023)
A longtime foe who became a two-time All-Star with the Cardinals, Dick Groat died Thursday in Pittsburgh. He was 92.
A studious shortstop, Groat came to the Cardinals from Pittsburgh in November 1962, two years after winning the batting title and National League MVP. He helped stabilize the Cardinals’ infield and after a runner-up finish for the MVP in 1963, Groat helped lead the Cardinals to a World Series championship in 1964.
Born Nov. 4, 1930, in Wilkinsburg, Pennsylvania, Groat was an accomplished basketball player before he was a two-time World Series champion. He was a two-time All-American in basketball at Duke and scored 831 points as a junior in 1950-51 — a school record then that remains the fourth-most ever in Blue Devils’ history. He has two of the highest-scoring single games in Duke history, too. Groat also led the Duke baseball team to the College World Series, and that led to signing with the Pirates under their new general manager, Branch Rickey.
Groat did not play in 1953-54 as he served in the Army.
In 14 major-league seasons, Groat batted .286 with 2,138 hits and eight All-Star selections. He spent three years with the Cardinals, batting .289, and retired two years after the Cardinals traded him and Bob Uecker to the Phillies ahead of the 1966 season.
Groat was elected this month to the Pirates’ Hall of Fame, according to reports. He is survived by three daughters and six grandchildren. He is also the great uncle of pro golfer and U.S. Open champ Brooks Koepka.
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