JUPITER, Fla. -- Even with the recent addition of Ruben Tejada, the Cardinals have not yet settled on their early season shortstop plans. Tejada will get a good look, sure, but Jedd Gyorko, who started at the position on Monday, remains in the mix for starting opportunities.
But while much of the attention has been on Gyorko's defensive capability at a position he's still learning, his playing time will hinge as much on his bat as it will his glove. And for Gyorko, that means correcting the slow-start tendencies that hindered him in San Diego.
"That's not going to happen this year," said Gyorko, a career .185/.257/.248 hitter in the first month. "April has definitely been a tough month. We're going to flip the switch this year."
Gyorko said he's struggled to produce early in the season for years, going back to his time in the Minors. In 2014, he opened the year 14-for-104 before landing on the disabled list with plantar fasciitis. Less than two weeks into the 2015 season, the Padres benched the infielder for three days so he could clear his head and work on swing mechanics. His average at the end of the month stood at .135.
If he was hopeful of generating positive offensive momentum this spring, that, too, has been slow to develop. He had six hits in his first 33 Grapefruit League at-bats before lacing an RBI double to left in his first plate appearance Monday in the Cards' 4-3 loss to the Red Sox. It was his second extra-base hit of spring.
"Spring is always a process for me," Gyorko said. "It takes me a little bit longer, I think, than some of the guys. As spring has gone on, I've seen continuous progression, which is a good sign. In years past, I've been kind of searching for what is going to work and what's not. This spring I'm starting to really understand my swing. Once you find your swing, then it's just waiting for the timing to catch up."
The work to right his swing has been going on alongside his efforts to prove himself capable at short, a position he hadn't played professionally until last August. After starting 28 games there, Gyorko focused his winter work at short in case he'd be needed there extensively again.
That time could prove fortuitous now that the Cardinals are without starting shortstop Jhonny Peralta until at least June. Gyorko described his comfort at the position this spring compared to last season as "night and day."
"At the start, you're not sure if you can make all the plays or how that throw is going to be," Gyorko said. "But once you start doing it and get those reps, you start feeling more comfortable each and every day, and you start knowing how much time you have on all those grounders to make the play."
The Cardinals did not acquire Gyorko with the intention of playing him regularly at short, and still see his best fit being as a utility infielder. But the organization is no longer operating under ideal circumstances. What's to be seen is whether Gyorko can seize the opportunity for an enhanced role.
"When we traded for Gyorko, the whole idea was to give us flexibility," general manager John Mozeliak said. "When you're thinking about at-bats or plate appearances for somebody like Jedd, I still think he's going to get an awful lot, especially early on."