Gyorko continues to exceed expectations

Gyorko continues to exceed expectations

LOS ANGELES -- Two months after the Cardinals announced plans to open the season with Jhonny Peralta at third base, the player bumped to the bench by that decision has distinguished himself as the offense's most potent piece.

Jedd Gyorko, who sparked the Cardinals' early rush of offense in Thursday's 7-3 loss to the Dodgers, continues to redefine his offensive profile this year. And with a quarter of the season already passed, he continues to cast away skepticism that the more multi-dimensional look can't stick.

After reaching base four times on Wednesday, Gyorko wrapped up the series at Dodger Stadium by logging his 13th multihit game. He tallied five of the team's 17 hits over a two-day span to push his average up to .336. That's not only a top-10 mark in the National League, but it is nearly a point higher than his career average (.238) from 2013-16.

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"I think [I'm] just taking what the pitchers are giving me, more than anything," Gyorko said. "[I'm] not trying to do too much, not trying to force the issue. Just getting myself in good hitters' situations and making good swings."

The early success follows what was a statistically bizarre first season for Gyorko in St. Louis. He led the club with 30 home runs and averaged one every 13.33 at-bats in 2016, a ratio that ranked third-best in the Majors (minimum 400 at-bats). Yet, Gyorko also became the seventh player in MLB history to hit 30 home runs without tallying at least 100 hits in total. And he drove in just 59, the lowest RBI total for any player in a 30-homer season.

Amazingly, his first-inning double on Thursday was his ninth in 137 at-bats this season, matching his total over 400 at-bats last year.

A side-by-side comparison of Jedd Gyorko's 2016 (left) and 2017 (right) hits.

So why the dramatic change in production? A few factors may be in play.

According to Statcast™, Gyorko's chase rate is down (27.6 percent to 23.6 percent), as is his average launch angle. The latter could explain why more balls may be going off the wall instead of over it, though Gyorko is still on pace for a 26-homer season. The most glaring difference, though, has been Gyorko's ability to use all parts of the field.

Of his seven home runs this year, only one was pulled to left field. In comparison, he pulled 37 percent a year ago. His percentage of hits to the opposite field has risen to 23 percent, and he's batting .611 on balls put in play to the right side. In 2016, that average was .364.

"I think my approach has been more the other way, just because I think with the power last year, teams are hesitant to maybe [pitch me] inside knowing I can turn on the ball," Gyorko said. "I'm taking the hit the other way when the opportunity is there."

Gyorko's success on the road has been especially notable. He's now hitting .397 with 10 extra-base hits, 13 RBIs and 12 runs scored in 17 road games.

It's all been necessary, too. For while so many others in the lineup are still searching for traction, Gyorko keeps filling the cleanup void with sustained production.

"They're going to have to respect what he can do whether it's the long ball or whether it's just putting together a good at-bat in big situations," Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said. "[There are] just not a lot of weaknesses where they can consistently go to because he has the ability to get to the ball that's inside and he has the ability to drive the ball that's away. That's a pretty dangerous combination."

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.