ST. LOUIS -- A day after gaining clearance to pinch-hit earlier than expected, Randal Grichuk made a surprise return to the lineup in Wednesday's 4-3 win over the Cubs, but with one sizable limitation: He can't throw -- at least not with much oomph.
Grichuk, who had been out since Aug. 17 due to a right elbow injury, had thrown sparingly since being placed on the disabled list last month. It started on Monday, when Grichuk did some flat-ground work at a distance of 60 feet. He described the first set as "a little shaky," but he said he felt better as the session went on.
But after providing a punch off the bench with a two-run blast on Tuesday, the Cardinals made the aggressive move to find a way for Grichuk to play the field anyhow. The answer? Put him back in center field, but under orders not to throw with any effort.
"We walked through every potential scenario that could possibly happen and told him exactly what his expectation is," manager Mike Matheny said. "We told the other players too what the expectation is, and he understands. That was the only way this will work, and it's the only way it's an option. He gets it and ... he's concerned enough, too, to make sure he doesn't do anything that sets himself back."
"When teams see that, they're going to run," Heyward said." I haven't done that before. I don't think I've seen it the whole time playing baseball -- from five until now."
"That was the risk we took going into this," Matheny said afterward. "The odds of it happening in the first and affecting a run, I have to say are fairly low. But it got us."
The Cardinals were stung again in the second as opposing pitcher Jon Lester jogged home from second on a single to center. Grichuk lobbed the ball back into the infield.
"It's tough," Grichuk said after the game. "That was the biggest thing going into it, is I can't get caught up in the moment. Instincts can't take over when it comes to a throw like that. I just have to play smart and constantly be smart about it. ... You look at the game from a different perspective and have to figure out those situations before they happen, and what you're going to do if a ball is hit this way or that way."
It was a risk the Cards knew they were taking in order to get Grichuk's bat back into the lineup, but one that Matheny has seen pay off before. In 2003, the Cardinals stuck a limited Albert Pujols in left field for most of the season while he played through an elbow injury.
Grichuk said he is hopeful that he'll receive clearance to throw without restraint within one to two weeks. In the meantime, Matheny, when asked after the win if he would continue to use a compromised Grichuk in the outfield, said he is "not going to rule it out."