Ponce de Leon shining in long-relief role

July 7th, 2019

SAN FRANCISCO -- When finally got his first Major League win Thursday, he took awhile to get back to his locker to speak with reporters.

He had to spend a little more time making sure the mayo was out of his hair and hot sauce out of his eyes first.

The team gave him a full kitchen shower for his efforts in Thursday's win against Seattle, when he pitched 2 2/3 scoreless innings of relief to notch the win. And while he didn't get that same celebration after two scoreless innings against the Giants in Saturday's game, the Cardinals continue to celebrate the rookie right-hander's success and evaluate him for more -- and bigger -- opportunities.

"If he pitches that well, he's a candidate for a bigger role for sure," Cardinals manager Mike Shildt said after Saturday's game. "Ponce did a nice job, and he continues to earn more opportunities."

Ponce de Leon has been used for a variety of roles for the Cardinals over the last two years, including solid spot starts -- he has a 1.20 ERA in three starts (15 innings) this season -- before filling a long-inning relief role for the Cardinals. In his last three appearances, he allowed four earned runs in 10 innings. He struck out nine in 5 1/3 innings against the Padres after taking over for Dakota Hudson in the Cardinals' 12-2 loss on June 30.

Although Ponce de Leon is projected as a starter and still sees himself getting back to that role, he takes any opportunity he gets to show he's capable of staying with the big league club.

"I do see myself deserving of more opportunities," Ponce de Leon said. "But whatever role they put me in is fine, as long as I'm here pitching."

Wong out for precautionary reasons
After getting hit by a pitch on the inside part of his left calf in the fifth inning of Saturday's game, was out of the lineup Sunday so as not to aggravate the calf. The Cardinals second baseman felt the calf tighten throughout Saturday's game and exited in the eighth inning. He dove for a grounder in the seventh and felt the calf lock up, prompting his exit.

He was available off of the bench if needed Sunday, as the Cardinals only had two healthy bench players in Tyler O'Neill and Rangel Ravelo. Wong and Yadier Molina, who is nursing his right thumb, will be the next two available if needed to pinch-hit.

"Bruised a little bit, not too swollen," Wong said. "It didn't hit me too hard, luckily, but it just hit me in the right spot. Trying to get that inflammation out of that spot and allow my ankle to move freely. I just tried to stay walking around, had a heat pad on it trying to keep it warm, but as the game went on and how cold it was out there, just started locking up on me."

Although he felt better Sunday, Wong said he and the Cardinals didn't want to push starting, especially with four days off for the All-Star break coming this week. Those days of rest should allow him to be ready for the Cardinals' first series back from the break against the D-backs.