St. Louis Cardinals shortstop Paul DeJong will be back in town this Wednesday, scheduled to get the stitches out from the recent procedure to remove the plate in his hand which was inserted to help heal the fracture in May.
“I don’t feel like my hand’s broken, even though there were just a few holes from the screws,” said DeJong, who is already able to grip things lightly and is expected to enjoy a normal off-season. “That bone’s starting to fill back in and I feel stronger each day. Definitely a different feel than when they had to put the plate in back when I injured it.”
After missing 45 games because of the fracture, DeJong finished the season hitting .241 with 19 home runs and 68 runs batted in. His 48 RBIs in the second half of the season were the third most in the National League.
“This is something that I learned from, developed through, pushed through, and it’ll just make me stronger in the end,” DeJong said. “Kind of coming back into the thick of things trying to do too much with my own abilities and not trusting myself to kind of just let it happen and take what the game gives me. I definitely went through some over-aggressive and some mental lapses that kind of maybe affected me a little bit. Just learning more about myself and how to have that cool, calm demeanor like I had last year.”
When the last game of the final homestand came to an end at Busch Stadium this season, Paul DeJong was one of the Cardinals who stayed on the bench to watch Milwaukee celebrate out on the field. It was something he wanted to digest and a feeling he wants to experience in the near future with the Cardinals. But as he now reflects back on the season that was, there is a lot more than the ending to take away from it.
“I like to think about all the good things we did last year and let’s not forget just because we didn’t make the playoffs that some strides were made,” said DeJong, who points in particular to the second half of the season. “How we played as a team. We were the best team in the NL in the second half, so I think a lot of guys in the clubhouse know we got our feet wet last year. We had some success, now we’re all a little anxious and excited to get going again. It’s almost like we’re done now, but we all want to start up again. Going into Spring Training, it’s got to be that same type of attitude and urgency–we expect to win and we’re better than every other team we’re going to play. That’s the attitude we have to have.”
One of the areas the Cardinals will need to improve is defensive errors. St. Louis lead MLB with 133 miscues in 2018. Twelve of those belonged to DeJong, who had 454 chances in the field.
“We’re just going to have to take more pride in our work as far as preparation goes,” said DeJong, who said separating the game into each area can help. “Willie McGee will say sometimes ‘when you’re in the field, you’re playing defense. When you’re in the dugout, you’re ready to hit and when you’re on the bases, you’re a baserunner’. So to be able to flip that switch and forget what your at-bat was and just trying to lock in every pitch is really the goal. Physical errors are going to happen, but I think if we have a better mental approach as far as wanting the baseball and wanting to make a play, anticipating things in the field that are going to happen, then we’ll have a better defense.”
The Cardinals defense would also benefit from additional stability from a health standpoint. Besides DeJong missing time with his fractured hand, both Yadier Molina and Kolten Wong also had injuries keep them out of the lineup for prolonged stretches.
The 123 games for Molina was his lowest total since 2014. Wong played in only 127 games and DeJong 114.
“For me, I thought my defense really improved this year,” DeJong said. “A lot of that goes to Oquendo and Marmol helping me with my preparation and getting me in the right frame of mind to play defense, to play shortstop. When you’ve got Yadi, me and Kolten up the middle, and Harrison out in center, I feel like that’s contagious. Then you’ve got Ozuna, who won a Gold Glove, out in left. There’s a lot of things that kind of carry together…that stability up the middle leads to continued success. Staying healthy is a huge key.”
MACHADO AND WAINO
On the subject of defense and shortstop, it’s no secret that Manny Machado can become a free agent this off-season. In the past, he has expressed a strong desire to play shortstop and not third base.
How locked into playing shortstop is DeJong?
“I feel like I made some big improvements from my first season in the big leagues at short to this year,” DeJong answered. “I thought I had a much better defensive season. For me, I feel like I am a shortstop and I want to stay at shortstop. I think that I’m going to continue to develop and be one of those top shortstops in the league, both offensively and defensively. That’s the type of player I think I am and that’s the type of player I’m working towards.”
And like the rest of his teammates, DeJong was happy to see that Adam Wainwright will be back with the team for 2019.
“Very excited to see that,” DeJong said. “I’m glad there’s no more suspense there. We know what he brings to this organization, you saw at the end of the year. I thought he was still effective in getting outs, obviously great to have Waino coming back.”
“Those last couple starts he had, he was locating all his pitches. I think for him, that’s what his bread and butter is going to have to be–commanding his pitches, all three of them. The fastball, the cutter, and the curveball all in the zone. When he can command all three of those, he can be tough and he can get outs.”
photo credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea, Jeff Curry,Peter G. Aiken, Jeff Curry/USA TODAY Sports