With injuries having kept outfielders Tyler O’Neill and Dylan Carlson shelved for much of May, the at-bats and innings in the outfield have in turn given St. Louis Cardinals rookie Alec Burleson the opportunities to find his swing.
In 14 games since coming in to replace an injured Carlson during a May 14 road game against the Boston Red Sox, Burleson is 11 for 36 (.306) after batting .214 in 28 games before that stretch. Burleson entered Monday’s two-game, I-70 series opener against the Kansas City Royals with just as many walks (four) in his last 14 games as strikeouts.
“He went through a stretch there where he lined out quite a bit and then went through a stretch where it almost felt like he was trying to do a little more than he needed and then getting back to just, ‘I’m taking my at-bat,’” Cardinals manager Oliver Marmol said of Burleson. “We’ve seen a little bit of that. Overall, I still like Burleson, the at-bats he takes, and how he goes about it.
“But yeah, there was a period there where I felt like, it might have been the game right before we went on the road, he lined out it seemed every time. Hit the ball really hard. Then you try to do more than you need to.”
The Cardinals are expected to still be without the switch-hitting Carlson (left ankle sprain) and O’Neill (lower back) in the days to come.
Carlson made progress Monday as he ran and continued to take at-bats from the left side. Though, as Marmol noted, Carlson still has “some time to go” with his recovery before he is activated off the injured list. Carlson is expected to go on a rehab assignment once he is cleared.
O’Neill, who had baseball activities put on hold over the weekend, was said to be at a “standstill” with his progress.
As the Cardinals await for the outfielders to return, some of Burleson’s success has come as he waits for the right pitch.
Burleson ranks in the 96th percentile in strikeout rate, 94th percentile in whiff percentage and is in the 70th percentile in average exit velocity, according to Statcast. Burleson owned a .243 batting average on balls put in play entering Monday.
“That’s part of what’s good about him is that when he swings, he’s going to make contact,” Marmol said. “But that’s also what’s not because he’ll swing often at pitches that are borderline or just below or just away and he’s going to make contact. There’s not a whole lot you can do with those pitches.”
During the last two weeks, there are times when Burleson has done more with the pitches he has swung at just as he did Sunday when the East Carolina University product turned on a middle-inside fastball for a solo home run against the Cleveland Guardians. It was the first home run for Burleson, 24, since April 27.
“When he’s selective, it goes well for him,” Marmol added.
Before the start of Monday’s game, the Cardinals honored late Hall of Fame baseball writer and longtime Post-Dispatch reporter Rick Hummel with a pregame video tribute that featured photos of Hummel over his career. A moment of silence was held in honor of Hummel. Flowers and a black ribbon were placed at Hummel’s seat in the press box that carries his and longtime Post-Dispatch sports editor and columnist Bob Broeg’s names.
Hummel, reported for the Post-Dispatch for 51 years before retiring as a full-time writer in 2022. He covered 41 consecutive All-Star Games and three Cardinals World Series championships. Hummel was enshrined in the National Baseball Hall of Fame as a writer in 2007.
Hummel died at the age of 77 on May 20 after a brief, aggressive illness.
While Steven Matz was available out of the Cardinals’ bullpen on Monday and did enter in relief of starter Adam Wainwright, fellow lefty Matthew Liberatore’s availability out of the bullpen Tuesday was still undetermined as of Monday morning, Marmol said.
Following back-to-back off days Wednesday and Thursday, the Cardinals’ rotation could be restructured when they hit the road Friday to play Pittsburgh.
- Left-hander Zack Thompson pitched a season-high four innings and allowed two runs on five hits Sunday with Class AAA Memphis. Thompson, who is getting built up as a starter ahead of 2024, had not pitched past the third inning in his first four minor league starts this year.
- Outfield prospect Moises Gomez belted his 10th home run of the year Sunday. The home run was Gomez’s ninth in his last 20 games with Memphis after he homered once in 26 games to begin the year.
- 2022 first-round pick Cooper Hjerpe was named Midwest League pitcher of the week after he threw six no-hit innings and struck out five batters in a May 23 start for Class High-A Peoria. Hjerpe (2-3, 3.66 ERA) has a 1.54 ERA in 23
- innings during May.
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