DeJong 'happy to be back and playing'

Cards shortstop returned to lineup Sunday after missing 11 games

August 23rd, 2020

ST. LOUIS -- After missing 11 games and three weeks away from the field, All-Star shortstop returned to the active roster and was in the lineup for Sunday’s 6-2 victory in the series finale against the Reds. He went 0-for-4 with a strikeout, but said he was encouraged by his three sharp fly balls to the opposite field.

The Cardinals activated DeJong off the injured list and optioned right-hander to the alternate training site in Springfield, Mo., on Sunday morning.

Few players looked as ready for the 2020 season as DeJong did in Spring Training. Applying the work he put in over the offseason to calm his presence at the plate, DeJong had more RBIs (11) than strikeouts (seven), with five home runs and a .467 average (14-for-30).

When the season paused for almost four months, DeJong didn’t stop the work he did in the winter, and when the season resumed with Summer Camp, DeJong looked like he hadn’t missed a beat.

“I think he found his anchor,” manager Mike Shildt said. “It’s important that he understands who he is, what he is and how he does it. This game is challenging. Hitting’s the hardest thing to do in sports. He knows who he is. He’s got an understanding of who he is physically and who he is mentally, and the approach he needs to have to be ready to play. When you have that, there’s peace in it, but there’s also consistency.”

But then DeJong tested positive for COVID-19. One of 10 players who tested positive in the Cardinals’ outbreak that paused their season for more than two weeks, DeJong’s result came while the team was quarantined in Milwaukee during the first wave of the outbreak. In six games this season, DeJong is hitting .190 with one home run and four RBIs, but he hadn’t played in a game since July 29.

DeJong said he battled a fever in the first few days after his positive test, but after he overcame that, his focus was on getting back to the field. But his workouts were limited while quarantining in St. Louis. He was cleared to resume activity early last week and went to the club’s alternate training site on Thursday to get live at-bats before returning to the roster. DeJong is the second player to return to the roster after catcher Yadier Molina came back on Thursday.

“It wasn’t anything too bad,” DeJong said of the fever. “We’re all fortunate that it didn’t turn into something worse. We’re all young and healthy, and so it just became preparing myself to come back. [I] wasn’t worried too much about my health toward the end, just worried about getting back on the field.”

Shildt said that lefty Matthew Liberatore, the Cardinals’ No. 3 prospect according to MLB Pipeline, came to Busch Stadium this past Wednesday and threw a 75-pitch live session to DeJong and Molina that helped accelerate their returns. DeJong then got eight to 10 at-bats in Springfield while also doing defensive work and running the bases. His stamina held up during his break, so he focused more on making quick breaks out of the box and on the bases.

“I’m just happy to be back and playing and competing in the big leagues,” DeJong said. “This is a special opportunity. Not being able to play, and watching other team’s highlights -- even our own team -- was definitely a great perspective for me just to enjoy every moment I have out here.”

Elledge reinforced the bullpen over the past week as the Cardinals returned to action. He earned his first MLB win on Thursday, and in three appearances, he has a 4.50 ERA with eight strikeouts and five walks in four innings pitched.

Next step for Martínez, Helsley
Carlos Martínez will throw to live hitters Monday at Busch Stadium in the next step toward his return to the roster, and Ryan Helsley will throw his first bullpen Monday, Shildt said. Both are on the COVID-19 injured list but have been cleared to resume activity, which they’ve been doing for the past week. What’s next for the two will depend on how they recover from Monday, and Martínez’s return could be hastened with a shift to the bullpen.

“Clearly, they’re on the right path to getting back to competition,” Shildt said. “And we’ll evaluate them, and us, after both those things take place. That’s the next part of the plan.”

The final two players who tested positive for COVID-19 during the team’s outbreak were outfielders Lane Thomas and Austin Dean. Shildt said that, as of Sunday morning, they were not cleared to resume activity.