ST. LOUIS -- Since right elbow inflammation forced him out of an Aug. 16 game, Randal Grichuk had taken five series of swings. Three had been off soft-toss pitches, another at balls sitting on a tee. From there he advanced to a Tuesday coach-pitched batting practice. All of it had come within the netting of the indoor batting cage.
But it was enough, as he convinced the Cardinals' staff before Tuesday's 8-5 loss to the Cubs to be considered as more than just a pinch-runner. Manager Mike Matheny, assured by the medical staff that Grichuk could do no further damage to his elbow, obliged with a seventh-inning pinch-hit opportunity only to watch Grichuk, with his first on-field swing in 23 days, deposit a pitch an estimated 451 feet away, according to the Cardinals.
Grichuk's two-run blast sparked a five-run inning that made the loss to the Cubs a bit more respectable. It also announced the outfielder's return, not just as a pinch-runner, but as a pinch-hitter and soon, he hopes, as an unrestricted outfielder once again.
"They wanted me to wait a little bit longer," Grichuk said. "They said really it was a matter of getting my timing down and feeling comfortable facing Major League pitching. I said I wanted to help my team win, so I talked to everybody I needed to talk to and got the OK."
He acknowledged being a "little worried" about his timing, as well, though Grichuk showed no rust from a layoff when he tattooed a Justin Grimm fastball. Grichuk had been slated to take on-field BP for the first time Tuesday until an afternoon storm washed away those plans.
He ended up with the rare opportunity to log two pinch-hit appearances in the seventh, as he came back to the plate as the inning's 11th hitter. In a frame that opened with the Cardinals trailing by eight, Grichuk represented the potential go-ahead run his second time up. He struck out with the bases loaded.
"I kind of saw it getting closer and closer and was pretty shocked that I might get a second at-bat," Grichuk said. "I wanted to come through, get a knock, score some runs and keep the rally going. Unfortunately, he got me."
With his timing clearly coming back quickly, Grichuk's attention now turns to throwing. After three weeks off, he resumed playing catch Monday at 60 feet. The elbow, Grichuk said, felt freer as the session went on. He'll continue to extend himself until the Cardinals feel comfortable incorporating him back into the outfield mix.
In the meantime, he's given them every reason to be confident in his bat.
"He felt very good," Matheny said of Grichuk's pregame insistence that he be an available bat. "I guess he was right. He came back and said he felt really good and that he didn't see anything holding him back if we needed him tonight. We needed him, and he came through big.
"It would have been nice to see him do it twice."
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, By Gosh, It's Langosch, follow her on Twitter @LangoschMLB, like her Facebook page Jenifer Langosch for Cardinals.com and listen to her podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.