Kolten Wong made headlines toward the end of spring training for his reaction to potentially being platooned during the regular season. The p-word clearly rubbed Wong the wrong way when the idea was first broached in the media. When Wong actually saw a second base platoon in practice for opening night–with Jedd Gyorko penciled into the lineup at second–he took a more understanding approach about the situation.
“At the end of the day, it’s all about getting off on the right foot, and trying to bring back a ring,” Wong said. “Mike’s my manager, and I’m going to stand behind him, and his decision. He decided to go with Jedd, and it is what it is. I’ll be ready when my time is called, and go out there and do what I’ve gotta do.”
Matheny took Wong aside after the team returned from its Friday exhibition game in Springfield and told him he would not be in the first lineup of the season. Wong expressed appreciation for Matheny doing so, saying “communication is all you can ask for.” That conversation satisfied Wong, and leaves him determined to take advantage of the chances he does receive this season.
“(Matheny) came to me and told me about not playing today, and I kind of knew it was coming just because of who was starting,” Wong said, referring to Cubs lefty Jon Lester. “It is what it is. It’s not my last season, so I’ve got a lot more coming.”
Wong’s benching for opening night comes after the team branded him the face of its defensive revolution on the infield this offseason. Instead of staking a definitive claim to the starting job in spring, he batted .192 in 52 at-bats. Gyorko actually hit .191 for spring training (in 47 at-bats), but had six extra-base hits to Wong’s three.
Matheny still wants to see Wong go out and earn his playing time when he gets the opportunity.
“The conversation with Kolten is the exact same with everyone else,” Matheny said. “Go out there and be the guy that fights his way into the lineup every single day. Just trust the fact we’re trying to do what’s best for this team. You keep working on getting better, and we’ll find opportunities to maximize how you can help our club. And he gets it.”
Though Matheny didn’t choose Wong for Sunday’s lineup, he remains confident in the abilities of the 26-year-old infielder. When he sees the field, his unique skill set and athleticism can help the Cardinals win–a clear point of emphasis for all involved.
“I think he’s in a better place offensively, and I thought he had a good spring overall defensively,” Matheny said. “It seemed like no matter what kind of at-bat he had, he was making phenomenal plays in the field. That’s part of the conversation is 'don’t let that go. That’s the kind of player you should be. He’s gonna hit, I don’t think there’s any question about it, and I think he’s going to do it at a very high level. Meanwhile, defense, the way he run the bases, the way he plays the game, bringing some life and energy–that’s something we can control for the most part. So make sure you’ve got that every single day.”
Mozeliak echoed Matheny's comments, and indicated that Wong may have misunderstood the initial conversation surrounding a potential platoon. With all sides now in a place of increased understanding with one another, Mozeliak says he hopes to see Wong rebound from a troublesome spring–and be the guy the Cardinals pegged him for over the winter.
“You have to have an understanding of the way he may have interpreted that,” Mozeliak said of Wong’s initial comments. “I think overall, we’ve tried to give him some clarity. We’re not hiding from the fact that we want him to take hold of that position, but you look at how people have played. You always want spring training to have some relevancy. It’s not something that you just show up, go home, and if you don’t do well, it’s just a guarantee you’re going to get something. I think in his case, just go and play well. You go and play well, things will have a way of working themselves out. So that’s what I hope happens.”