Times are tough once again for Randal Grichuk.
“Over the last week or so, he’s really been struggling at the plate,” Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak said Monday.
The 25-year-old has four hits in his last 30 plate appearances over the last seven games, and just one hit in his last 17 at bats. He’s hitting .222 on the year and posting a featherweight .653 OPS. For all his work in the offseason to improve his plate discipline, he’s struck out in 30 percent of his plate appearances.
In season’s past, Grichuk’s struggles could be pinned on injury or erratic playing time. This season he’s been fully healthy and has played in every game but one and the outcome remains unchanged.
So as the Cardinals returned home, Grichuk was sent south, being optioned to High-A Palm Beach. To replace him on the roster, Jose Martinez (.313/.353/.458 before his injury in early May) was recalled.
In years past, Grichuk has been sent to Triple-A Memphis to get his swing right; usually remaining down for a dozen days and returning after regaining his confidence at the plate.
But the problems at the MLB level always seemed to return. The consistency would evaporate and the strikeouts would resume.
“Clearly the simple thing might have been to send him down to Memphis and let him get going, but we’ve all seen him hit there,” Mozeliak said. “You’ve always heard me say the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and hoping for a different outcome. This is no different. I really felt like we need to do something different here and go outside the box.”
So the Cardinals sent him to their headquarters in Jupiter, Florida, a plan designed to get him consistent instruction in a low-pressure environment.
He’ll work for a week with minor league offensive strategist George Greer, while getting steady reps on the back fields of the team’s complex.
“When you’re looking at strike zone management, and the ability to put himself in more advantageous counts, that’s what we’re hoping to see,” Mozeliak said. “I don’t think this is a case of Randal not understanding or accepting what he’s being told. I think he’s in a spot where at the major-league level, pressures are high. Making adjustments under pressure can sometimes be difficult. Sometimes you can benefit from hitting the pause button.”
Grichuk has struggled with plate discipline since he arrived in the majors two seasons ago. He too often handcuffs his prodigious power by putting himself in ugly counts and chasing ugly pitches. Hercules himself couldn’t hit .250 if pitchers knew they didn’t have to come near the zone.
The Cardinals still believe Grichuk has the ability to be a star hitter in the bigs. Manager Mike Matheny called him a “superstar talent” Monday, and Mozeliak added, “When you look at him from a pure talent standpoint, you see why we were so excited about him.”
But excitement tends to follow statistics, and Grichuk has been unable to sustain an upward trend on either this season. This trip to Florida is a critical juncture in his career. He’s been demoted before, but briefly Barry Bonds-ing his way through inferior pitching hasn’t translated to long term success.
This time, he’ll go further down, 1,100 miles away from the lights of Busch Stadium and amongst a roster of names fans do not yet know. It’s as low prestige and as low pressure as it gets. The front office believes that’s the best environment in which he could study. If the instruction doesn’t take hold, the list of ideas is just about exhausted.