Kolten Wong will get his first start as a center fielder in the big leagues today against the Texas Rangers at Busch Stadium. Wong was recalled from Triple-A Memphis on Friday. Despite Cardinal management’s initial insistence that a move to the outfield was not in the works, Wong played three of his seven games for the Redbirds in center field. He will bat second and face the Rangers’ Nick Martinez (1-1, 3.38 ERA) in his first start since rejoining the team.
Wong starting in CF and hitting second. #STLCards via @BaseballPress
While the position switch is the more headline-grabbing news, Wong’s bat is the most important thing to the Cardinals in getting their money’s worth on the freshly inked 5-year, $25.5 million deal. Prior to his demotion on June 6, the former first round pick slashed .222/.306/.286 with only four extra base hits — a double, two triples, and a home run — in 126 at bats.
In Memphis, Wong went 12-for-28 with 4 home runs, a triple, and 11 RBIs. He made his impact felt right away as he led off his first game with a home run and ended it with a walk-off grand slam.
His much anticipated tryout in the outfield went about as well as it could go. In 28 innings in center field, Wong only had four total chances — three putouts and an outfield assist in which Wong cut down a game-tying run at the plate in the eighth inning against Nashville.
While Memphis was the first time Wong has played outfield as a professional, in 2009, he played all 58 games of his freshman season at Hawaii in the outfield, for which he was named the WAC Freshman of the Year and to the All-WAC first team.
The Cardinals do not necessarily feel a burning desire to get Wong back to his old starting spot at second base. Over the past two seasons, he finished tied for first and second in the MLB for most errors committed at that position. This season through just 41 games he already had six, putting him on pace for 24 when he was sent down. His .969 fielding percentage is the worst of his career.
Wong was sent down when Jhonny Peralta came off the DL. With Peralta taking over third base, Matt Carpenter moving back to second base, and Aledmys Diaz locked in at shortstop, Wong was going to be the odd man out. The move to Memphis was to get his slumping bat more consistent work. The move to the outfield seems like an obvious move in hindsight with the crowded infield and Wong’s subpar defense at second base. The position change gives Matheny more opportunities to get Wong’s bat in the lineup, which they obviously hope will be closer to the huge pop he showed in Memphis than the .286 he slugged before his demotion.
Jeremy Hazelbaker was sent back down to Memphis to allow for Wong’s comeback. Although Hazelbaker’s story was one of the highlights of the first month of the season, since then he has looked much more like the 28-year-old career minor leaguer that he is. Hazelbaker hit .317 with 5 home runs and an OPS of 1.040 in the month of April. In May and the first two weeks of June, Hazelbaker hit .180 and had not had a home run since May 14.
Carlos Martinez will be on the mound today for the Cardinals. First pitch is scheduled for 3:15 p.m., and the game can be seen on FS1.
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