Grichuk can still be 'big piece' for Cardinals

Matheny wants free-swinging outfielder to seize second chance in return to bigs

Grichuk can still be 'big piece' for Cardinals

HOUSTON -- Already willing to lean on a pair of rookie pitchers during a pennant race, the Cardinals also appear ready to recommit to another young player who hopes a flourish at the finish can salvage some positive from an uneven season.

An Opening Day center fielder and twice-demoted free-swinger, Randal Grichuk returned to the Majors on Thursday without an obvious fit. Circumstances quickly changed that, however, as an injury to Matt Holliday left a vacancy in the outfield.

And while the Cardinals have explored the trade market and waiver wire for a replacement option, they appear more interested in giving those at-bats to someone who might still fit into their long-term plans. The unknown is whether Grichuk, who turned 25 on Saturday, is ready to seize that opportunity in a way he couldn't earlier this year.

"I like him in center field, and I like the prospect of what he can do on a consistent basis," manager Mike Matheny said. "What that looks like? How consistent? That's yet to be determined with what everything else looks like. But all in all, I really want to let him get in there and figure some things out. I want to see him play."

Matheny went on to describe the outfielder as a "stallion … all pent up in the stable." Unwilling to stick with Grichuk through his offensive lulls before, Matheny seems to be ready to commit in a way he hasn't before. Not only could Grichuk provide an offensive lift for a team in pursuit of a playoff berth, but how he finishes the year will play into how the Cardinals evaluate their player options going into next season.

Grichuk's game-tying solo homer

"I want to see this kid free," Matheny explained. "I want to see him run. I want to see him play his game. … Because when you see what he's done at Triple-A and you see what he's done at times here, it's going to come together. And I think it could be a big piece for our club."

Shortly after making those intentions public on Sunday afternoon, Matheny sought out Grichuk to reiterate his confidence in the young outfielder and to also try to free Grichuk from the perception that the Cardinals want him to be someone that he's not.

Though encouraged by the lack of strikeouts from Grichuk during his most recent Triple-A stint, Matheny emphasized that swing-and-misses, when supplemented by power, are OK.

Grichuk's grand slam

It's the sort of tradeoff the Cardinals welcomed over the weekend, when Grichuk, fresh off a promotion, struck out six times in 13 at-bats but also connected for two doubles and two home runs.

"There are a bunch of guys in this league who have had some very nice careers and some very nice contracts that swing and miss a lot," Matheny said. "Randal might be that guy. I personally think he can be the total package, but maybe for a while be OK with those and realize that we think it's OK as long as he's still producing.

"Just let him be more of a one-dimensional hitter who can hurt you at one particular time instead of a guy that's kind of a master of none."

Jenifer Langosch has covered the Cardinals for MLB.com since 2012, and previously covered the Pirates from 2007-11. Read her blog, follow her on Twitter, like her Facebook page and listen to her podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.