Cards hoping Grichuk's bat coming around

Cards hoping Grichuk's bat coming around

ST. LOUIS -- A season that began with Randal Grichuk set as the team's everyday center fielder has evolved into a series of growing pains through which the 24-year-old is continuing to navigate. He hopes a two-hit performance in Monday's 10-3 win over the Phillies can help him move beyond the latest.

Manager Mike Matheny, as he did after Grichuk opened the season 1-for-15, sat Grichuk on Monday to give him an opportunity to unplug from his current 0-for-20 skid. The respite was brief, however, as Grichuk came off the bench in the sixth, snapped his hitless streak with a single and then homered an inning later.

"It feels good to go out there and put good wood on the ball," Grichuk said afterward. "I feel like I have been seeing the ball pretty well, and I just hadn't been making great contact as of late. That felt good."

Monday marked the third time in the team's last five games that Grichuk has been out of the lineup so that he could spend his day working to get right without the pressure to perform on the field.

Grichuk's offensive troubles in early April could be boiled down to pitch recognition and confidence, the former leading to an erosion of the latter. Grichuk pulled his way out of that skid with extra work tracking pitches from a slider machine and, beginning with a three-walk afternoon on April 10, hit .286/.412/.571 with 11 walks and nine strikeouts in a 12-game stretch.

He has followed that success by going hitless since his first at-bat on April 25. In searching for the root of his latest troubles, Grichuk has honed in on the mechanical side.

"I think the beginning of the year was more mental and more seeing the ball," Grichuk said. "I think now is a little more mechanical. I feel like I've had some good at-bats as of late, just missing balls. I think the key is laying off balls outside the zone. I feel like I've done a good job of that lately. Hopefully, I'll start hitting mistakes."

He noted, too, that he recently identified some mechanical flaws in his swing that he continues to try and correct with extra pre-game work.

Matheny, who believes pitch recognition still is an underlying issue for Grichuk, does not have a bevy of other center field options if he were to want to get Grichuk additional time off. Stephen Piscotty drew the start in center on Monday, and Jeremy Hazelbaker could capably fill in there as well.

The Cardinals could have another center field option by mid-May as Tommy Pham (left oblique strain) appears to be just a few days away from beginning a Minor League rehab assignment. For the first time since his Opening Day injury, Pham took on-field batting practice with the club prior to Monday's game. He has also been cleared to shag fly balls at full effort.

Pham estimated that he would like to get about 20 Minor League at-bats before feeling ready to return.

Jenifer Langosch has covered the Cardinals for MLB.com since 2012, and previously covered the Pirates from 2007-11. 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.