Diaz breaking out of early-season funk

Diaz breaking out of early-season funk

ATLANTA -- With 10 hits in his last three games, shortstop Aledmys Diaz is showing signs of regaining the timing that eluded him throughout much of April. He went 3-for-4 with two RBIs in Saturday's 5-3 win over the Braves at SunTrust Park.

The flurry of hits comes on the heels of manager Mike Matheny dropping Diaz down in the lineup after utilizing him as the team's No. 2 hitter over the first four weeks of the season. Matheny hesitated to conclude that the two events are related, but Diaz did note that he has benefited from watching Yadier Molina hit ahead of him in his starts on Thursday and Friday.

That, along with an emphasis on being more selective with his swings, may be pulling Diaz out of his early-season funk.

"The last couple games, I just feel like I have my rhythm back," said Diaz, who was hitting .218/.233/.406 before Thursday's three-hit night. "I think it's about repetition. I went back and saw videos from the last year and just tried to make it simple: See the ball and try to hit it up the middle."

Diaz's two-run double

Diaz was among several Cardinals hitters to look off-kilter early. It took 72 plate appearances before Diaz drew his first walk, and he was whiffing at a higher rate (10.6 percent) than last season (8.2 percent). Diaz's average exit velocity has also dipped from 88.8 mph in 2016 to 86.2 mph in '17, according to Statcast™ measurements.

However, his first two hits on Friday registered exit velocities of 104.7 and 100.7 mph, respectively, and Diaz swung and missed on just one of the 16 pitches he saw.

Diaz has reached base 11 times since Thursday and is the first Cardinals player since 2009 to string together three consecutive games with at least three hits. He also contributed a key sacrifice fly on Saturday.

"He's in a good place," Matheny said before Saturday's game. "Just putting together better at-bats. You can tell he's seeing the ball, trusting it. He's tracking the ball well. He's taking walks. He's laying off tough pitches and hitting balls that he can drive."

Diaz's sacrifice fly

Whether it's correlation or coincidence that a trio of multi-hit games have come since Diaz moved to the middle of the lineup is impossible to ascertain. But with things trending positively now, Matheny said he's content to leave the shortstop down in the order for a while longer.

Fowler cleared for return

Despite Dexter Fowler's insistence pregame that he would be available off the bench, Matheny noted after the team's win that that was not the case. It sounded unlikely, too, that Fowler would be ready to return to the lineup by Sunday.

"He still hasn't thrown at all and really hasn't swung," Matheny said. "We tried to get him in there today, and it didn't feel quite like he was hoping for."

Fowler joined the Cardinals late Friday afternoon after an MRI showed no structural damage to the right shoulder the center fielder jammed while making a diving attempt on Thursday.

Fowler leaves game vs. Brewers

"Any time you dive for something, you're going to be sore," Fowler said. "I'm blessed that it wasn't anything serious and I can be back playing soon."

A late scratch

The Cardinals scratched cleanup hitter Jedd Gyorko from the lineup about an hour before first pitch due to a right wrist contusion. Gyroko exited Friday's game four innings after a ground ball skipped up and caught him on his throwing hand.

Gyorko, who was replaced at third base by Greg Garcia, did enter the game as a pinch-hitter in the eighth inning and singled. He remained in the game to play third base.

Worth Noting

• After playing five innings as part of a rehab assignment with Class A Advanced Palm Beach on Friday, Jhonny Peralta (upper respiratory infection) was back at third base for Palm Beach on Saturday. He tallied two hits (both singles) in three at-bats and played six innings at third base.

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