(BaseballStL) — The life of a utility player can be a thankless one. Your jersey doesn’t sell, playing time is sparse and people can’t even pronounce your name. That third bit might be more true for Daniel Descalso, the forgotten cog in the St. Louis roster, than most of his peers.
The 27-year-old California native has been in the bigs since September of 2010, and has played a support role for nearly all of the last four years.
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He appeared in 148 games in 2011, and his appearances have declined since. Still, manager Mike Matheny reasserted Tuesday how important Descalso- and the versatility he brings- is to the club.
“You don’t want to burn him up for early pinch hits, because we use him so many different ways late,” he said. “It’s been difficult and he deserves better. It’s just been hard to do.”
Descalso can play at least three infield spots, including both up-the-middle posts. It has afforded the Birds with an array of options when resting starters and in crucial late game situations. However, it takes a strong constitution to remain upbeat and focused while fighting for innings year after year, even if your value is being constantly affirmed by your manager.
“I’m afraid it’s starting to sound like a gong in his ear. How many different ways can you tell him?” Matheny said. “Over the last few years it’s been a very similar song.”
It’s a song that may grate in Descalso’s ears a bit more this season.
After playing in well more than 100 games each of the last three years, he has seen action in only 41 in 2014. That puts him on pace for just 94 games; 29 less than his previous low of 123.
Through a rocky start for the Cardinals, the skipper says his utility man has stayed the course. The even approach has been welcome, especially given the youth of the roster and enormous pre-season expectations.
“He’s the epitome of a pro. He shows up here trying to figure out a way how we’re going to win and doing his part, not getting caught up in circumstances,” Matheny said. “It’s paid off for the last couple years. Next thing you know, you look up in the World Series and there he is in an important position.”
Because of his relative youth and adaptability, Descalso has a shot at an everyday role, even if it isn’t in St. Louis. Balancing that fierce competitive drive to win a full-time gig with the maturity to put the team first is essential for a role player to not just survive, but thrive until the opportunity knocks.
“If they weren’t wired like that, they wouldn’t be around the game very long and you wouldn’t want them around, so it’s that fine balance,” Matheny said. “If you were to draw it up, he’s doing it exactly how you’d want him to do it.”
Descalso will make just his 10th start of the year against the Mets Tuesday.