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Carlson may be speeding up timetable

@anne__rogers
February 29, 2020

JUPITER, Fla. -- There are still 21 spring games left, and that’s a significant amount of time. But if Dylan Carlson continues to play anywhere close to the way he has started Grapefruit League play, it will be difficult for the Cardinals to keep their top prospect off the roster

JUPITER, Fla. -- There are still 21 spring games left, and that’s a significant amount of time. But if Dylan Carlson continues to play anywhere close to the way he has started Grapefruit League play, it will be difficult for the Cardinals to keep their top prospect off the roster come the end of March.

Carlson went 2-for-3 with a walk and two runs scored in St. Louis’ 6-3 win over the Nationals on Saturday at Roger Dean Chevrolet Stadium. His walk, single and double extended his run to eight consecutive plate appearances reaching base before he struck out in the eighth.

Before that strikeout, he hadn’t made an out in four days.

“I didn’t honestly know that I had reached that many times in a row,” Carlson said. “The way it was spread out made it a little different … but yeah, that’s cool with me. I wouldn’t mind that again.”

The 21-year-old switch-hitting outfielder is a non-roster invitee to Cardinals camp, but he’s in the mix for an outfield spot in St. Louis along with Tyler O’Neill, Lane Thomas, Austin Dean, Rangel Ravelo and others. Carlson will see time at all three outfield spots this spring. Saturday was his first start in center field, and he has had three in right field.

In six games and 14 at-bats, Carlson is hitting .500/.611/.786 with a 1.397 OPS.

Carlson’s locker in the Cardinals' clubhouse is on the Major League side, wedged between catcher Matt Wieters and the other young outfielders vying for a spot. Carlson has used his location to his advantage, asking questions to Paul Goldschmidt, Dexter Fowler, Paul DeJong and other veterans. On Saturday, he asked Goldschmidt how to prepare for Nationals starter Patrick Corbin and his slider. That preparation is what helped him draw the walk.

“I think you see a good player,” Cardinals manager Mike Shildt said. “We use the word 'consistent' a lot, consistent with approach, consistent with technique, and you’re seeing a guy that’s able to do both and the rewards are -- 8-for-8, that’s a pretty impressive thing. But you’re just seeing a good player with a plan, with the ability to execute.”

There are a lot of eyes watching Carlson this spring, from the coaching staff and his teammates to the fan base and the media. Ranked as the No. 17 prospect in baseball by MLB Pipeline, Carlson is projected to make an impact in the Cardinals' lineup whenever he does get to the Majors. He has a good understanding of the strike zone, and being a switch-hitter helps his chances, too. There’s not a lot of difference between his lefty and righty swings -- both are smooth and balanced, and he tries to do damage no matter what side of the plate he’s on.

But even with all the eyes on him and the hype surrounding him, Carlson’s focus is on one thing: improvement each day.

“I try to just keep it as simple as possible,” Carlson said. “Literally, I narrow it all the way down to just trying to find a way to get better every day, and then wherever that leads me, that’s where I’ll be.”

If he continues the way he has started this spring, it’ll lead him to St. Louis.

Muñoz strains hamstring
Yairo Muñoz strained his left hamstring running to first base in the bottom of the seventh inning Saturday. Shildt didn’t know the severity of the strain or a time frame for Muñoz's return.

“We’re looking at some initial, preliminary, strain without any timetable,” Shildt said. “It’ll be some time.”

Muñoz is hitting .375 in 16 at-bats with four RBIs this spring. He’s in the mix for a utility role and can play shortstop, third base and the outfield.

Worth noting
Carlos Martínez was unhittable in his start Saturday, allowing no hits in three innings. He walked three and struck out four over 51 pitches. Martínez touched 94 mph but was mostly around 90 as he worked on fastball command. The right-hander is vying for a rotation spot and feels more comfortable this spring than he has in years past -- a testament to his health and the fact that he’s on a starter’s schedule.

“Right now I feel really good,” Martínez said. “Last year I felt frustration because of [shoulder weakness], but right now I feel really comfortable, I feel ready. I feel strong."

Miles Mikolas, who is recovering from a right flexor tendon strain, will begin playing catch around March 11, Shildt said Saturday. That will be three weeks from when he received his second platelet-rich plasma injection to deal with the forearm soreness that returned at the beginning of camp.

• Seth Elledge, Griffin Roberts, Akeem Bostick, Tommy Parsons, Alvaro Seijas and Matthew Liberatore threw live batting practice. With 37 active pitchers in camp, starters beginning to get stretched out in the second week of games and Minor League camp not starting until March 9, some non-roster invitees will throw on the back fields to get their work in.

Up next
The Cardinals head to West Palm Beach, Fla., on Sunday to face the Astros at FITTEAM Ballpark of the Palm Beaches at 12:05 p.m. CT. Austin Gomber is slated to start and throw three innings or 50 pitches, followed by John Gant's three innings or 50 pitches. Junior Fernandez and Kodi Whitley will throw an inning each in relief, with Jesus Cruz, Rob Kaminsky and Alex FaGalde, among others, in the bullpen as backups.

Anne Rogers covers the Cardinals for MLB.com. Follow her on Twitter @anne__rogers and on Facebook.