VIERA, Fla. -- So optimistic two months ago when he traveled to Los Angeles to pick up a pair of hybrid contact lenses, Tommy Pham is now unsure whether he found a viable solution to his vision issues after all.
The lenses that he hoped would offer clarity have instead left the outfielder a bit confounded and he's reverted back to an old set that he had previously described as inadequate. Pham made the swap after striking out in his first at-bat against Detroit's Matt Boyd on March 18, and he has been going back and forth between the two pairs since.
"I felt like I was picking up the ball, but I'm not seeing the corners [of the plate] really well," Pham said. "With the old [lenses], I feel like I can see the corners better. But with the new ones, the ball is just slower, which is a good thing."
It has been eight years since Pham was diagnosed with an eye condition called keratoconus, which causes visual distortion. He has visited several eye specialists and toyed with various solutions, but he has yet to stick with one.
Even he acknowledges, however, that his spring streakiness isn't entirely vision-related. Pham described himself as "too jumpy" at the plate, and that had him entering Thursday's game against the Nationals with a team-leading 11 strikeouts in 33 at-bats. On the flip side, Pham has had success when he's put the ball in play, going 9-for-22 with two extra-base hits.
He garnered his third in his first plate appearance in Thursday's 8-2 loss to the Nationals, lining a two-out double to center to plate two runs against Nationals starter Max Scherzer.
"One day he's been red-hot in a game, [and] he hits everything ridiculously hard. And then the next day, something is just a little off," manager Mike Matheny said. "He's always been a streaky guy. That's not necessarily a title anybody wants, and that's going to be part of the evolution of Tommy Pham, is trying to figure out how to lessen those long streaks."
As part of his extra swing work, Pham saw more live pitching than any of his teammates on Wednesday, despite not playing in the Cardinals' Grapefruit League game. He was one of three batters to face Tim Cooney in a live batting-practice session. Pham then returned to the backfields to take six at-bats in a Minor League game. He homered off Cooney and tallied three hits -- each struck squarely -- in the game.
The Cardinals already have a place for Pham on their Opening Day roster, and a strong finish to spring could catapult him into the mix for more playing time than most anticipated coming into camp. With Matt Holliday now a viable first-base option, the Cardinals can work the right-handed-hitting Pham into the lineup without removing Holliday from it.
Interest in keeping Pham regularly involved comes after the Cardinals watched him emerge as an offensive catalyst late last season. Called up on Aug. 17, Pham ended the year hitting .303/.379/.532 with 15 RBIs, fifth-most on the club during that span.
Pham now seeks a start akin to that finish, something a quad injury precluded him from in 2015. He takes responsibility for not entering camp in optimal shape last spring and sought to change that with a winter that included more vegetables in his diet and more speed and agility work in the gym.
"I feel you should as a person, as a player, just so that you know you're constantly working toward something and not be too complacent," Pham said. "For me, considering my injury history, I'd say yes, I want to prove to the organization that I can stay healthy. That is a big priority for me."