Carlson breaks out with 2 hits, his 1st 3 RBIs of season

June 8th, 2024

ST. LOUIS -- His season up to this point wrecked by a devastating shoulder injury suffered late in Spring Training, Cardinals outfielder Dylan Carlson felt as if he was facing the greatest challenge of his career in trying to get his swing back while also being stuck battling for opportunities.

Talk about mind games, Carlson never figured that his first RBI of 2024 would come on June 7, especially after spending all offseason working on his swing and showing off that vast improvement during a Spring Training audition that originally earned him the starting center field job. However, all those feel-good vibes were snuffed out for Carlson on March 25 when a collision sent him careening to the warning track where he sprained his left shoulder.

Working to simultaneously rebuild shoulder strength while also trying to locate the timing of his swing went about as expected. Carlson limped into Friday just 6-for-47 at the plate and still in search of his first RBI of the season. As fate would have it, the 25-year-old former first-round pick rescued the Cardinals with a three-RBI night and propelled them to a come-from-behind 8-5 victory over the Rockies.

Forced to fight through injuries for another season, Carlson tied the game at 5 with a sixth-inning single, and then he doubled in two more runs in the eighth to give a Cardinals club that had already squandered a 4-0 lead some cushion. For Carlson, delivering in the clutch was as good for his peace of mind as it was for his batting average.

“It’s been a challenge, for sure, because this game will test you,” Carlson said. “I’ve gone through a lot of different challenges and ups and downs here, and this game just keeps finding ways to challenge you. It’s part of your story, and you have to keep building, keep growing and keep evolving and make the most out of it.”

The Cardinals came into Friday tied for last in baseball with a .209 batting average with runners in scoring position, but they had seven hits in those situations on Friday night and scored four times against the Colorado bullpen. That clutch hitting, combined with the bullpen giving five innings of one-run work, made up for starter Lance Lynn leaving early and a 4-0 lead evaporating within a matter of seconds in the fourth inning.

After walking No. 8 hitter Jake Cave to load the bases in the top of the fourth, Lynn surrendered a bases-clearing triple to Colorado outfielder Michael Toglia. To make matters worse, Nolan Gorman’s throw to third hit off Toglia’s foot and bounced away, allowing him to come around and score for the Little League grand slam that knotted the score at 4.

“I’ve got to close out starts,” Lynn said. “The last two starts, I’ve thrown the ball really well and I haven’t gotten past the fourth inning. All in all, I’ve got to be better.”

Carlson wanted nothing more than to be better than he was in 2023, and he put in the work over the winter to make sure that he was swinging with more “intent.” Working out several hours a day in Phoenix over the offseason, Carlson also went through daily therapy sessions on a left ankle that required surgery.

All that work helped him lead St. Louis in home runs and RBIs in Spring Training, and he was originally named the starter in center field as the Cardinals headed west to prepare for their season-opening series against the Dodgers in Los Angeles. However, all the progress that Carlson worked to regain was undone in an exhibition game against the Cubs in Mesa, Ariz., just days before the season opener. Chasing a ball in the right-center gap, Carlson’s legs were taken out from under him by a diving Jordan Walker and the spill sprained the AC joint in his left shoulder. That injury cost him a little more than the first month of the season, and he hurried back because of the club’s pressing need in center field even though he was a long way from being fully healthy.

“The main thing was not being able to use [the shoulder] those first couple of weeks in the rehab process,” Carlson said. “You start creating bad habits and inconsistent things you’ve never done and then you’re wondering, ‘What’s going on?’ It’s kind of a constant process [with the shoulder], and you have to attack it with the right attitude and right headspace.”

Carlson’s three RBIs on Friday were his first in the regular season since, fittingly enough, notching one against the Rockies in August. His season ended soon after because of the ankle injury, so Friday was a long time coming.

“He needed it, and we needed it,” manager Oliver Marmol said.