Cards' outfield gets cloudier after Carlson collision

March 26th, 2024

MESA, Ariz. -- Apologetic and seemingly on the verge of being emotional, Cardinals right fielder Jordan Walker shouldered the bulk of the blame for the collision that knocked center fielder out of Monday’s Spring Training game with a shoulder injury.

Carlson’s injury was the latest at a position the Cardinals can hardly afford to lose more players considering that Opening Day against the Dodgers in Los Angeles is just three days away. Tommy Edman (right wrist surgery) and Lars Nootbaar (two rib fractures), the two players who primarily manned center field in 2023, have already been ruled out for the opening series. Carlson, the Cardinals Spring Training leader in home runs (three) and RBIs (13), walked to the clubhouse after the fall with his left arm and shoulder drooping and he was clearly dejected.

“Left shoulder injury” was the only diagnosis the team offered after the Cardinals' 6-3 win over the Cubs, but the center fielder left Sloan Park during the game and was scheduled to get X-rays and an MRI on his shoulder. If he isn’t ready for Opening Day, defensive ace Michael Siani -- who made the defensive play of the game on Monday with a diving stab on a ball hit into the left-center gap -- would likely start in center. Victor Scott II, who pushed Carlson for the starting spot throughout a stellar spring, could be another option in center field.

“I’ll tell you [Carlson] feels banged up with the combination of that left shoulder [hitting] the ground, and his hip and his ankle,” Cardinals manager Oliver Marmol said. “I don’t have a whole lot [of information] just yet, other than he doesn’t feel real good.”

The 6-foot-6, 250-pound Walker pursued a deep drive hit to the right-center gap by Cubs second baseman Nico Hoerner and dove for the ball only to knock the legs out from under Carlson, who was pursing the ball to his left. Carlson then landed hard on the warning track with his left shoulder, hip and ankle taking the brunt of the fall. The 21-year-old Walker, who is in just his second season of playing in the outfield, called the play “a miscommunication.”

“Either he called me [off], and I didn’t hear it, or we didn’t call each other off at all,” Walker said following the game. “Obviously, what we’ve been taught is [with the] center fielder, once he calls you off you stop and until then you are giving 100 percent effort. That’s exactly what I was doing -- I was giving 100 percent effort for it. If he called me off, I’m sorry if I didn’t hear him because this stadium is really loud.

“I gave 100 percent effort trying to catch that ball and I feel really bad for running into him. I think I saw [Carlson] too late, as well. When I’m diving for that ball, I’m trying to get into his sights there. I think it was just a miscommunication on both our parts there.”

The Carlson injury marred an otherwise feel-good day for the Cardinals. They got two hits apiece from star third baseman Nolan Arenado and rookie shortstop Masyn Winn, Willson Contreras’ first home run of the spring and 4 2/3 scoreless innings of relief from Ryan Fernandez, Matthew Liberatore, Riley O’Brien and Matt Svanson. Contreras, who left the Cubs following the 2022 season to sign with the rival Cardinals, mashed a two-run homer to right-center in the sixth, flipped his bat and then playfully jogged around the bases to celebrate the homer that tied the game at 3.

Carlson was hoping to head into the season injury-free after seeing 2022 marred by a left hamstring strain and left thumb sprain and '23 cut short by a left ankle injury that required surgery. After an offseason spent rehabilitating his ankle and working to swing with more of what he called “intent,” he went out and won the starting center field job with consistent production at the plate and steady play in the field.

Now, the Cardinals will wait on MRI/X-ray results that could shelve another projected starter in center field.

“When you get toward the end of spring, you’re just trying to make it out healthy and in those last couple of games you hope nothing like this happens,” Marmol said wistfully. “[Carlson] has had a tremendous spring, so hopefully he comes out of this OK.”

Added Walker: “It’s just really frustrating because [Carlson] has been swinging the bat so well and he’s already done it defensively. It’s just really frustrating on my part, and I just hate that it went down the way that it did today.”