"It's been a great first week, to say the least," Hazelbaker said. "I have a lot of games under my belt, Minor League games, so I feel like I've been ready for it."
He may have felt ready for it, but it took 751 Minor League games before someone else did, too. The Cardinals have thus far been rewarded for giving him that chance.
Since striking out in his first Major League at-bat, Hazelbaker has shined. He collected his first hit (a double) in his second at-bat and then homered when inserted into the lineup for the club's final game in Pittsburgh last Wednesday.
Hazelbaker went deep again on Friday, this time with a game-tying solo shot that, unbeknownst to anyone at the time, would finish as historic. It was one of three pinch-hit blasts the Cardinals hit, a feat never before accomplished in the Majors.
That spark led manager Mike Matheny to start Hazelbaker in both weekend games, during which the outfielder reached base five times, stole two bases, drove in two and scored twice in a pair of victories. Hazelbaker keyed the Cardinals' four-run third on Sunday by extending the inning with a two-out walk, and he then lined a game-tying RBI single to right in the eighth.
"Your first week, you just want to make sure you make a good first impression and you belong, and he's doing that," noted Matt Carpenter. "He's been a big part of wins right now. That first week in the big leagues, there is a lot of emotion. You want to get off to a good start."
Circumstances have afforded Hazelbaker the chance to prove that he belongs. Had Ruben Tejada not injured himself on the final day of Grapefruit League play, Hazelbaker would have likely opened the season in Triple-A. He moved further up on the depth chart after an Opening Day injury to outfielder Tommy Pham. Randal Grichuk's sluggish start, coupled with Hazelbaker's quick one, has left Matheny little choice but to keeping sending Hazelbaker out.
The flexibility Hazelbaker offers with his ability to play all three outfield positions will make it easier for Matheny to keep him involved, even as Grichuk moves back into the lineup.
"Taking bases, putting pressure on, it's fun to watch the way Jeremy is going about it right now," Matheny said. "Once again, we followed him all last year [in the Minors] and the stats that he had. He was pretty consistently good. But then to see him firsthand, you see that this guy is actually a real good player."