Ozuna all smiles
The man they call The Big Bear met Cardinal fans for the first time Sunday, and seemed to have as much fun as they did.
Marcell Ozuna, with his famous beaming smile, signed autographs for more than an hour before meeting with the media. Afterward, he had high praise for the welcome wagon.
“I was glad to see that. That’s the most important thing for me, to have fun and enjoy them and for them to enjoy me,” he said. “That made me feel great.”
Ozuna already knows what to expect from the Busch Stadium crowd, saying the energy inside already drove him to play harder as a visitor.
“It made me feel like you had to fight to give them something. Something to smile about, or something to make them yell at you. You have to makes something special of the game,” he said. That made me feel like you have to battle every time you get in the box.”
For more on Ozuna’s day in St. Louis, read the full story here.
Waino all in the moment
Adam Wainwright is going into the final year of his contract with the Cardinals and coming off a second injury-plagued season and his second elbow surgery since 2014.
He’s returned to health with his usual self assurance, but he’s stopped considering the future of his career and dedicated himself to staying in the moment.
“What got me into some trouble last year was at the beginning of the season, I was feeling great and pitching bad and I had never done that before. So it didn’t really make sense to me. I started looking at the end of my career, now, OK, now I can kind of see the light at the end of the tunnel,” he said. “Well then I started pitching really great and I went to a different place. And I went, ‘You know, maybe I will sign another two or three year extension.’ Then I started injuring myself and I started tanking, and then I started thinking the same way. It made me pause.
Listen, I can’t be living in the past. I can’t be living in the future any more. Where I have to be is in the now and I’ve got to get the most out of where I’m at right now and we’ll see what happens.”
It’s clear what the 36-year-old thinks will happen.
Wainwright once again expressed confidence in his abilities, challenging the prevailing media opinion that he’s past his prime. While he admits he has some things to prove after last season, he remains the eternal optimist.
“There are a lot of dudes in this room that are thinking I’m at best the fifth guy in the rotation. I was reading some of that,” he said to the assembled reporters. “It doesn’t do me any good to think that I’m fighting for a rotation sport. In my mind, I’m fighting to be the No. 1 pitcher in the game, still. That’s what I want to be.”
Tommy Pham says he’s a 30/30 guy
The 29-year-old outfielder had his breakthrough season in 2017, which good health and raw talent finally coalescing into an electrifying campaign in which he hit .306, had a .411 on base percentage and slugged .520.
That’s rarified air, and he added 23 homers and 25 stolen bases to go with it, achieving a goal he set back in 2012 when his season was derailed by injury: have at least 20 home runs and at least 20 steals in an MLB season.
“I feel like a lot of people don’t believe anything I say. After I do it, it’s easier for me to be like, ‘I told you so,’” Pham said, explaining his reasoning for writing his 20/20 goal down and saving a picture of it. “I told [my mentor] John Hartwig I was a 20/20 player in 2012 when I was hurt. I said I could have over a .900 OPS in the big leagues and I did that.”
.931, to be exact.
Now, Pham again has a goal to write down, though this time doubters are going to be hard to come by.
“Personally, I think I’m a 30/30 player. I probably would have gotten it if I was up [in the big leagues] all year. I had more 30 bases if you count Triple-A and the big leagues. I fell maybe a couple home runs shy of it?” he said.
He’s right on.
Counting the 25 games he played for Memphis at the start of the season, Pham would have finished with 27 home runs and 31 stolen bases. Here’s to a healthy season.
Wacha setting the curve
Michael Wacha’s breaking ball has been a steadily-developing weapon, and the 306 he threw in 2017 were his best yet.
“I was real happy with how the curveball was coming along last year. It had never been a pitch that I could count on in certain times throughout a game,” he said. “But over the season it was one that I started to trust more and more and it started to become an out pitch for me toward the end of the season. It’s something that I’ll definitely be continuing with and hopefully it’ll become something even stronger in my repertoire, for sure.”
He threw the pitch for a strike 35 percent of the time, and got a foul ball or a whiff nearly 17 percent of the time. The hook netted 23 of his 158 strikeouts on the year, and he’s looking to raise that number going forward.
“Just getting to where I can throw it for strikes whenever I want to. I can bury it whenever I want to. I think it plays well with my fastball, changeup combination as well. It just throws something else out there for them that they’re not expecting,” he said.
Weaver’s weight gain
Luke Weaver is ready to cement his place as a full-time member of the Cardinal rotation, and doing that means weathering the workload of full MLB season.
To do that, he had to add weight to his frame, a tough task when your metabolism burns as high as a hummingbird’s.
“I sat down with a nutritionist and uh, it was like a 5000 calorie per day deal,” he said. “’I’m like eating six pieces of bread and six eggs and, you know, two cups of nuts and I mean it’s just a bunch of stuff. So like, I’m always full. And eating like, just didn’t become fun anymore. It became like a job. So I would advise you never to do that. So now I don’t even taste things anymore, I just, if it doesn’t taste good, I don’t notice.”
However unpleasant the means, Weaver was able to pack on 15 pounds, lifting his weight from 170 to 185.
“They wouldn’t even let me through the door because I told them who I was and they’re like, “eh, we don’t believe you. You used to be skinny.” So yeah, that’s good start there,” he said.
Lyons becomes new dad
Tyler Lyons and his wife welcomed their first child, Savannah, into the world November 30. A nervous Lyons was in the delivery room for the whole thing, and has enjoyed the adventure of parenthood.
He’s still adjusting to the diaper changing, however.
“It’s been easier than I thought it would be. They don’t smell or anything. That’s where I think I’m really going to have a problem. It’s been pretty good. She’s sleeping and eating,” he said.
The lefty signed his first big-dollar deal this offseason, netting a $1.2 million contract to avoid arbitration.
It comes on the heels of his best professional season, one in which he appeared in 50 games as a reliever and posted a strikeout rate of more than 11 Ks per nine innings (among the top 15 in the National League).
The surge in strikeouts came from a change in approach, and a comfort with relief work.
“The strikeouts came from trying to get strikeouts a little bit. Not necessarily, oh, I’m going get a strikeout. But pitching with a little bit more aggressive mentality to not just throwing strikes, or just establishing pitches. Maybe that came with being in the bullpen full-time a little while now,” he said. “I think one of the things that I made a conscious effort of what trying to make my pitch no matter what the count was. I think a lot of times that was – even behind in the count I would make my pitch and not just throw a strike.”
A new number for DeJong
Paul DeJong enters his third spring training a full-fledged big leaguer and the likely everyday shortstop for the Cardinals.
After slashing .285/.325/.532 with 25 long balls, DeJong seems to have arrived, but he still doesn’t have the seniority to keep his jersey number.
With the return of Jose Oquendo to the coaching staff, DeJong will be handing number 11 back to him.
“Jose gets it back. He's got more time,” the 24-year-old said. “Over at Mike [Matheny]'s dinner the other night in Chesterfield I signed a jersey with Number 12. I think that might be it.”
No word on if he’ll be compensated in return (as is the custom among players) But Oquendo is giving DeJong tutelage in Jupiter already as the young infielder prepares for a full season at shortstop.
“He has so much knowledge and experience,” DeJong said. “For me it's about discussing certain situations with him that might come up in a game. There are so many little things in baseball. You can talk for 30 minutes and get something out of it. Really, it's a great experience for me to be working with him, in so many ways.”
Patrick Wisdom patiently waiting
Despite never playing a game for the major league club, prospect Patrick Wisdom remains a fan favorite.
His autograph line was sold out Sunday, and the media room was packed for his interview.
The 26-year-old hit 31 homers last season in Triple-A, slugging .507 on his way to a breakout offensive campaign.
But a September promotion never came, and neither did an explanation from the higher ups as to where he fell short.
“I wish my pay grade allowed me to get that insight. I don’t really hear what’s going on, and I don’t really get any information like that. I wish I did so it would guide me in the right direction. But for now, keep my head down and keep moving,” he said.
Wisdom was also eligible for this year’s Rule 5 draft, which means had he been selected, he would have vaulted right to a team’s major league roster (think Matt Bowman a couple years back).
However he was passed over, leaving him to find more motivation in the hunt for his shot at the big leagues.
“I’ll be honest. It’s frustrating. But, what can you do? You just have to go out and keep playing and continue to get better,” he said. “Personally it’s frustrating, but you have to use it as fuel to keep moving and stay focused.”