Arenado christens Jordan Montgomery’s Cardinals debut with his latest dose of defensive wizardry

St. Louis Cardinals third baseman Nolan Arenado celebrates after turning a double play during...
St. Louis Cardinals third baseman Nolan Arenado celebrates after turning a double play during the seventh inning in the second game of a baseball doubleheader against the Chicago Cubs Thursday, Aug. 4, 2022, in St. Louis. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)(Jeff Roberson | AP)
Published: Aug. 7, 2022 at 2:04 AM CDT
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ST. LOUIS, Mo. (KMOV) - If Cardinals fans ever felt the urge to take the greatness of Nolan Arenado for granted, what they saw on Saturday night ought to have snapped them out of the haze.

Facing his former team in the top of the fourth inning, Cardinals starter Jordan Montgomery was settling into his debut outing with St. Louis. After walking Josh Donaldson in a shaky first inning, Montgomery didn’t want to lose the Yankees’ third baseman to the free pass yet again. So with a 3-2 pitch headed home, Montgomery was willing to let Donaldson put the ball in play.

Donaldson did. Arenado did the rest.

With a sprawling dive toward his right, Arenado snared the Donaldson grounder. Then, with his mitt on the chalk of the third base line, he popped up and shifted his weight in a flash.

Since swiping extra bases from Donaldson wasn’t enough to satisfy the nine-time Gold Glover, Arenado planted on his right knee, positioning his body to serve up a flawless one-hopper across the diamond to Paul Goldschmidt for the out.

Welcome to the team, Jordan Montgomery.

“I’ve heard nothing but great things about him,” Montgomery said of Arenado. “I see him on ESPN all the time—it’s great to see him doing it for me.”

Arenado’s latest endeavor into leather-bound absurdity helped the Cardinals maintain their 1-0 lead wire-to-wire in Saturday’s win over New York.

Though his RBI hit in the first inning also provided the lone offensive support for Montgomery--who pitched five scoreless innings before leaving the game due to leg cramps--it was Arenado’s defensive effort in backing up his starter that truly got people talking.

The Cardinals’ human hot-corner highlight reel has poured hundreds of hours into honing his craft defensively. Before the Cardinals completed the trade for him with the Rockies ahead of the 2021 season, Arenado was known to have occasionally texted Adam Wainwright videos of himself working on defensive drills—in hopes that it would entice John Mozeliak to pull the trigger on a deal with Colorado.

These days, jaw-dropping plays like the one Arenado made Saturday are evidently just second nature to him.

“It’s just instinct,” Arenado said in front of his locker after Saturday’s game. “I do work on it, I used to work on it—I don’t do it as much anymore. I used to work on it a lot.

“But yeah, I feel very comfortable making a play like that.”

Oh, we could tell.

“Nolan, from his knees,” Cardinals manager Oliver Marmol marveled in discussing his Platinum Glove third baseman whose defense often makes him look like a superhero to his pitching staff. “First off, catching it—and then to be able to accurately throw it across the diamond on time was a heckuva play.”

Really, it’s Arenado’s brand of a defensive comfort zone that extends throughout the entire infield defense for the Cardinals. Arenado and Paul Goldschmidt anchor the group at the corners with 13 combined Gold Gloves between them. Behind the dish, Yadier Molina boasts nine of his own. Tommy Edman earned one last season. Paul DeJong is a past finalist. Rookie Nolan Gorman has been a pleasant surprise with the leather.

Not a bad situation to walk into for a veteran sinkerballer like Montgomery.

“It definitely gives me the confidence to throw it,” he said regarding the way the quality of the St. Louis defense coincides so perfectly with his sinker. “Hit it to somebody and they’ll make a great play.”

Montgomery’s sinker is his best pitch, and he seems to know it. According to Brooks Baseball, Montgomery has thrown the sinker on 36% of his total pitches against right-handed batters this season. Against lefties, that rate rises to a whopping 59%.

The sinker has been Montgomery’s bread-and-butter—and after adding the sterling Cardinals defense behind him, why should that approach be any different moving forward?

“Pitching to contact and letting guys play,” Montgomery said of his ground ball mindset on the mound. “Gave up two ground ball hits. If I give up two singles, I’m happy about it.

“You put them on the ground and most of the time, good things happen.”

When you’re putting them on the ground in the vicinity of Nolan Arenado, that’s as safe a bet as any.