Donovan breaks slump with three-hit night in Cards victory

April 2nd, 2024

SAN DIEGO -- Oddly passive and called out on strikes six times in his first four games, Cardinals outfielder reverted to his more aggressive style of 2023 and came out swinging on Monday night.

Donovan singled, doubled and homered in his first four at-bats to lead a 14-hit Cardinals attack in a 6-2 win over the Padres at chilly Petco Park.

A hitter who preferred to work deep into counts as a rookie in 2022, Donovan often ambushed pitchers on first pitches in 2023 when he hit a career-best 11 home runs despite his season ending prematurely due to UCL repair surgery in his right elbow. Donovan uncharacteristically struggled in the Opening Series against the Dodgers, going just 2-for-16. Not only that, but Donovan struck out six times, including whiffs to open the previous three games.

On Monday, he caught Padres knuckleballer Matt Waldron and reliever Jhony Brito off guard by being aggressive early in the count. Keeping the opposition guessing isn’t just limited to pitchers, Donovan said. Depending on the pitcher, he wants to mix up his style from time to time.

“It just depends on the guy -- some guys you don’t want to see two strikes and some you don’t want to see one strike against them,” said Donovan, who finished a triple shy of the cycle. “It just kind of depends on what the situation is and it’s telling you what the guy is trying to do to you and how you are feeling. All those things factor into the equation.”

A little more than 24 hours after the Cardinals blew a 4-0 lead and lost, 5-4, to the Dodgers in Los Angeles, they came out with their best offensive effort of the young season. They got a two-run home run in the first inning from and two-hit nights from , , and .

Like Donovan, the Cardinals entered Monday struggling, ranking last in the league in batting average (.173) and tied for last in homers (one). On Monday, the Redbirds showed off their potential with production up and down the lineup.

“We have so many guys in here who have done it for so long and have seen so many things and we’ve got a really close group,” Donovan said. “I feel like we’re really in a good spot. We’re taking care of the baseball [defensively], we’re running the bases and we’re pitching. We’re very optimistic.”

Veteran right-hander also gave the Cardinals plenty of reason to be optimistic. The 36-year-old Gibson allowed solo homers to Jackson Merrill and Fernando Tatis Jr., but he was otherwise brilliant over seven innings in his first start with the Cardinals. Long a suburban St. Louis resident in the offseason, Gibson dreamed for years of pitching for the Cardinals. He made the most of his first start by scattering four hits.

“It’s always good to get the first [win] out of the way and it’s good to go out and make a good impression,” Gibson said. “It’s good to go out and throw well when you feel good, but there are going to be times when you don’t have stuff. But on the days when you have good stuff, it’s good to get results.”

Cardinals manager Oliver Marmol said he spent time with Donovan on Sunday night as the team made the two-hour trek from Los Angeles to San Diego and he didn’t get any sense that the gritty leadoff hitter was panicking over his slow start to the season. Finally, the results came for him on Monday.

“The game looked slower to him today, he drove the baseball and situationally gave us just what we needed,” Marmol said of Donovan, who, along with wife Aly, welcomed their first child two weeks ago. “He took some really good at bats today.”

Donovan began Monday’s contest with a single in the first inning before doubling in the second and hitting a 90.4 mph changeup from Brito 375 feet for his first home run in the sixth. Donovan said some of his motivation was wanting to generate run support for Gibson, who has been a consummate professional and leader in the Cards clubhouse.

“I think we can all learn something from the way he goes about his business, the way that he prepares and the way he competes out there,” Donovan said. “Man, it doesn’t matter what’s going on out there to him. He gave us seven outstanding innings and that was big. Tonight was huge for him and I’m pumped for him to win his Cardinals debut.”