Jay progressing, eager to see potential of healthy wrist

Center fielder not yet ready for game action, eyeing Opening Night

Jay progressing, eager to see potential of healthy wrist

JUPITER, Fla. -- Two days into their Grapefruit League season, the Cardinals have gotten at least a limited-game look at all of their projected starting position players -- with the exception of one.

Center fielder Jon Jay remains out of that mix as he continues to build up his left wrist strength following an offseason procedure. Jay hasn't been slowed by any additional issues with the wrist, but he was delayed in his spring program after getting a late start on his offensive work.

He took his first swings several weeks later than usual, he explained.

"The timeline is to be ready April 5," Jay said, eyeing the Cardinals' Opening Night matchup against the Cubs. "I'm trying to be smart about it. I feel good with where I am now and how much time is left in camp."

While his teammates were taking on-field batting practice and facing live pitching in the early days of camp, Jay got his swings done inside the batting cage, where he hit off the tee and swung at soft-toss pitches. That progressed to having coaches pitch to him, and on Thursday, Jay hit on the field for the time.

Internally, the Cardinals have a projected date for Jay's spring debut, and if the center fielder hits it, there should be no issue in getting him enough at-bats to be ready for the season opener. What Jay said he most anticipates now is seeing what a healed wrist can do for his swing.

The injury became a nagging one during the second half of last season -- so much so that Jay stopped taking on-field batting practice -- but it is an issue that dates back to the 2011 postseason. He jarred the wrist diving for a ball Ryan Braun hit in the National League Championship Series.

"Looking back now, I haven't been 100 percent for a while," Jay said. "Over the years, it got to a point where my wrist couldn't take it anymore."

Despite the increasing pain last summer, Jay was one of the team's best second-half producers. He hit .323/.406/.392 after the All-Star break and went 14-for-29 during the playoffs. It cemented his place as the team's everyday center fielder and contributed to the Cardinals offering him a two-year extension last month.

"I never want to say, 'Oh, it's going to help this or help that,'" Jay said of the surgery. "But just thinking back now about my progression and knowing in '11 that I drove the ball a little bit better. ... But I've always had different things come up."

Those things included the wrist injury late in 2011 and then a shoulder ailment in 2012. His career-highs in home runs (10), extra-base hits (36) and slugging percentage (.424) came in 2011, before his wrist was compromised.

"Hopefully now I can put everything together," Jay said, "and start seeing my progression as a hitter."

Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, By Gosh, It's Langosch, follow her on Twitter @LangoschMLB and like her Facebook page Jenifer Langosch for Cardinals.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.