Activated from IL, Nootbaar starting in CF for Cardinals Saturday

St. Louis Cardinals' Lars Nootbaar celebrates after hitting a walk-off single to score Nolan...
St. Louis Cardinals' Lars Nootbaar celebrates after hitting a walk-off single to score Nolan Arenado during the ninth inning in the first game of a baseball doubleheader against the Chicago Cubs Thursday, Aug. 4, 2022, in St. Louis. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)(Jeff Roberson | AP)
Published: Apr. 15, 2023 at 1:40 PM CDT
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ST. LOUIS, Mo. (KMOV) - Lars Nootbaar is back in the Cardinals’ starting lineup Saturday for the first time since Opening Day after being activated from the injured list. Nootbaar had spent the last couple of weeks recovering from an injured thumb that he suffered on a slide into third base in St. Louis’ first game of the season.

His return muddies the waters even further on a challenging daily decision for the Cardinals’ manager. Even in Nootbaar’s absence, Oli Marmol had to balance four capable outfielders⁠—Jordan Walker, Alec Burleson, Tyler O’Neill and Dylan Carlson⁠—for only three spots in the lineup.

With Nootbaar presented by team brass in the off-season as the only outfielder with a guaranteed claim to a daily spot in the batting order, his arrival further complicates matters.

It’s a situation that Marmol admits isn’t fair to the pair of players that will be left riding pine on any given day⁠—but there’s really no simple solution. With five worthy players for three outfield spots, the math is unavoidable.

“It’s not fair,” Marmol acknowledged. “I’m not going to describe it as fair. Is this fair to Dylan Carlson? The answer is, not really. He’s deserving to go out there three or four times a week and show what he’s capable of doing. But at whose expense? And I’m not sure that’s very clear.”

Even for players who perform at a high level in their limited opportunity⁠—as Marmol insisted Tyler O’Neill did Friday with an aggressive and impressive defensive effort in left field⁠—the reality is that someone is getting left out the next day. And with Nootbaar now back in the fold, it’s two someones.

“There’s high-end pressure for everybody in that clubhouse,” Marmol said. “That’s the nature (of it). You may say, well, Goldy doesn’t have that. He did. And then he proved that ‘I’ll give my spot up once I’m done with it.’ Certain people have grown out of the pressure that you’re talking about, but all have gone through it at some point.”

With Nootbaar fresh off the IL, Marmol has slotted him into the starting lineup in center field for Saturday afternoon against the Pirates. Burleson and Walker flank Nootbaar to either side, making Saturday a day when O’Neill and Carlson both sit the bench.

Marmol listed Burleson as an example of a player who has continued to earn his playing time with his daily performance so far this season.

“He didn’t come in here as a guy that was going to play every day,” Marmol said. “But you take him out of the lineup, you know?”

Marmol has no plans to do so, as Burleson began the day Saturday with a .290 batting average and .842 OPS on the season. In his first at-bat of Saturday’s game, he roped a double into the right-field corner to score Brendan Donovan.