WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — When it comes to the lineup, Paul Goldschmidt has been crystal clear with all of his managers through the years about where he prefers to hit.
“Wherever you want me,” he said. “I’ve told every manager I’ve ever had that you can hit me wherever you want me. I told ‘Shildty’ he can switch me as much as he wants.”
What is clear is Mike Shildt wants Goldschmidt to hit in the first inning.
And batting his first baseman second is growing on him, again.
“Liking what we see there,” the Cardinals’ manager said.
The Cardinals seized a 2-0 lead in Wednesday night’s game against Houston at the Ballpark of the Palm Beaches two batters into the game because Goldschmidt hit No. 2.
Tommy Edman led off with a single and Goldschmidt followed with his third home run in as many days. He hit two against Jack Flaherty in a simulated game Tuesday, and Wednesday’s was his first in the Grapefruit League.
Shildt has tinkered all spring with where Goldschmidt and Nolan Arenado fit in the lineup, though the Cardinals’ manager obviously is drawn toward the idea of assuring his two leading hitters get at-bats in the first inning. That means neither hits cleanup.
Goldschmidt led off his Cardinals career hitting second, and he’s thrived in cameos there as baseball trended toward the best hitter in a lineup batting No. 2.
From opening day to late May in 2019, Goldschmidt mostly hit second for the Cardinals and had a .812 OPS with 11 homers. In 2018, he moved to No. 2 in Arizona’s lineup closer to June and then had a .364 average with a 1.199 OPS and 10 homers to win the National League’s player of the month. Talking via phone Wednesday, Goldschmidt said where someone hits is less influential than how the player is hitting or the production around him. Action in the lineup ahead of a batter “puts pressure on the defense and the pitcher, and it can snowball from there.”
Spring is starting to turn to the point at which hitters get their groove and the work of spring shifts from the back fields and cages to show up in games, Goldschmidt said.
“The first week or so you’re kind of getting one or two at-bats every other day, and it’s hard to starting stringing stuff together,” Goldschmidt said. “You start playing two or three days in a row, getting three or four at-bats, then you start to be a little more consistent. Now more is happening in games. The stats — take them for what they are because you are going to have 60 at-bats, 80, anything can happen — but what you see is more preparing in the game. The timing is there. Everything is more consistent. It’s like, OK, OK, the season is starting pretty soon.”
Hicks bounces back
In fewer pitches than he threw to one hitter in his first official appearance of spring, Jordan Hicks got to face six batters Wednesday and check his command off the mound as well as on it. Back for his first appearance since the grueling, 22-pitch walk this weekend that welcomed him back to games from surgery, Hicks threw 21 pitches and would have had a tidy three-groundout inning if not for his own error.
Two of the groundballs he got in the inning came back to him, and both times he bobbled the fielding. Once he regained control for a tag and collision with the runner, and once he played the grounder into an error.
He walked two and hit a batter to prolong the inning but was mostly around the plate with his 99 mph to 100 mph fastball, and under the zone with his off-speed.
“It’s just getting back into competition,” Shildt said. “A lot of soft contact. Getting the ball back to you, covering first — a lot of things you get out of spring training that he hasn’t done in some period of time.”
How ‘Waino’ hit
About to face Houston for the third consecutive time this spring, Adam Wainwright noted to catcher Yadier Molina that he still had tricks had yet to see.
“I’ve added a couple of wrinkles to my repertoire,” the righthander said. “So, going into today, I told Yadi, ‘They don’t know what in the world is coming.’ I like this. This is fun.”
The first of the Cardinals pitchers to make a fourth start this spring, Wainwright pitched 4 2/3 innings and struck out four. He retired the first nine Astros he faced before Houston connected for two runs on five hits. As he’s longed to do in the regular season, Wainwright faced an American League lineup, DH and all, but got to hit for himself in the Cardinals’ lineup. The former Silver Slugger’s first at-bats in more than 12 months looked like it, he agreed.
In his first at-bat he struck out on off-speed pitches, and once whirled his bat quickly behind his back as if to hide the swing. He called it one of the five worst of his career.
“First two pitches, well alright, just hit the ball hard, hit it hard, hit it hand, and then — a good lesson to any youngster out there reading this — I changed to hit it far, hit it far, hit it far,” Wainwright said. “Saw what happened.”
What will happen come April, as the NL speeds closer to the regular season without the owners and union adopting the universal DH, is pitchers thrust into at-bats none of them have had since October 2019.
“We’ll see,” Wainwright said. “Hopefully guys are taking it seriously. It matters. . . . And, and there is nothing more devastating than giving up a huge hit to a pitcher. You can really swing a psyche. You can really change the course of a ball game by doing that.”
Where Oviedo starts
The rookie’s slider, Shildt said, was good enough Tuesday to merit a dive into the analytics, and Johan Oviedo’s full complement of pitches is enough for the Cardinals to likely keep him as a starter-in-waiting when the regular season opens. Oviedo, 23, pitched three innings opposite Flaherty in a simulated game Tuesday, and the Cardinals plan to find ways to keep him stretched out as a starter, not shift him and that slider to a bullpen role for a major-league look.
With the competition for the rotation narrowing and his innings limited in exhibition games, that positions Oviedo as the Cardinals’ de facto No. 6 starter — available out of the minors, if needed.
“He’s put himself in a good spot to be ready,” Shildt said. “We’re going to need (insurance). He’s got secondary pitches beyond the slider. I think it would be way too early to think about (relief), and we don’t have the need at the moment — hopefully we won’t — to put him in the bullpen. He’ll be used as a starter, get his work, get his touches, work, and refine his craft, and be built up. That will be the plan for Oviedo.”
The looming righthander with the power fastball made his major-league debut in 2020 as part of the group of starters who aided the Cardinals through their stretch of doubleheaders. In five starts he had a 5.47 ERA and went 0-3 with 16 strikeouts in 24 2/3 innings. To gain some of the lost innings in the shortened season, Oviedo pitched in the Dominican Republic this past winter. He moved to Tampa, Fla., to ready for the season – and a big-league bid.
He has only two innings in Grapefruit League play, getting most of his work off the main stage. On Tuesday, he struck out three and used 43 pitches to get nine outs from teammates. He slipped behind in counts early but landed enough sliders that Shildt said he wanted to check the advanced data on them to see how he’s crafted them.
“Eye test – it looks to be a more consistent pitch,” Shildt said.
“I’ve been working on a lot of the things I learned last year,” Oviedo said. “I’ve been improving, feeling better, good slider, good breaking pitch, command of my fastball is getting way better – and it’s just a process of learning.”
@dgoold on Twitter