LOS ANGELES -- Believing that too much criticism fell on the shoulders of his rookie shortstop after the Cardinals' rough defensive performance in Friday's 8-4 loss at Dodger Stadium, manager Mike Matheny spoke passionately in defense of Aledmys Diaz prior to Saturday night's game.
Diaz was charged with three of the four errors the Cardinals committed on Friday, giving him nine in his first 31 games as a Major League shortstop. That's not the full picture, however, as Diaz has also made several sensational plays and offered the Cardinals incredible offensive production. He entered Saturday leading the Majors with a .685 slugging percentage and was second with a .387 batting average.
"I just don't think it's fair to come down on one kid who has had a phenomenal start to the season," Matheny said. "I think we're making too much of this. He's been so good, and he's getting better. He's just a puppy, man. He's just a young player. That stuff can scar a kid, too. It can delay his progression to be the consistent player that he's going to be. It's a shame that so much is made of those tough plays."
Matheny was intentional in seeking out Diaz on Saturday to deliver that message to him personally.
None of the three plays Diaz muffed on Friday were necessarily routine, though the rookie emphasized afterward that they were all ground balls he should have fielded cleanly. The fumbles came under the spotlight because of the persistent defensive problems that have plagued the Cardinals and the fact that five unearned runs scored in the series-opening loss.
Advanced metrics have Diaz currently listed as a slightly below-average shortstop, with -1 Defensive Runs Saved and an Ultimate Zone Rating of -1.1. It's important to remember, too, that one of the reasons the Cardinals initially opened the season with him assigned to Triple-A is because injuries limited the number of reps he had been able to get at short the last few years.
That leaves him having to learn on a stage that can often be unforgiving.
"I just know how hard it is for this guy in the spot he's in right now," Matheny said. "And he feels the weight of the world. I just don't want him to feel that in here. Part of that is we haven't made a big deal of these things, and I think that's helped us create an atmosphere where this kid can go do what he's been doing. I think he has a chance to be very, very good."
Matheny was also defensive on Saturday when asked whether the absence of long-time infield coach Jose Oquendo has led to the defense's struggles. Matheny went out of his way to commend the work Bill Mueller and David Bell have done in Oquendo's place.
"It's one of those things that we have a target on us for right now," Matheny said. "It's something we've done well in the past, and every time there is an error, there are just going to be darts. I think whenever anything isn't going right, you start, 'OK, where can we go? What can we put the finger on?' And those are the obvious ones."