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Wong weighing risk vs. reward in plotting return

@anne__rogers
September 29, 2019

ST. LOUIS -- Kolten Wong knows that his speed makes his game elite. He also knows that could hurt him if he tries to come back from his left hamstring strain too soon. So the Cardinals' second baseman has a decision to make: When is the right time to take

ST. LOUIS -- Kolten Wong knows that his speed makes his game elite. He also knows that could hurt him if he tries to come back from his left hamstring strain too soon.

So the Cardinals' second baseman has a decision to make: When is the right time to take the risk?

With Wong out of the lineup on Saturday at Busch Stadium, the Cardinals lost to the Cubs, 8-6. St. Louis caught a break when Milwaukee lost to Colorado in extra innings, so the Cardinals still have a one-game lead heading into the season finale and will win the division with a victory or a Brewers loss. If the clubs are tied after Sunday's games, the Cardinals would host a Game 163 tiebreaker on Monday. The division winner will face the Braves in the NL Division Series, while the runner-up will take on the Nationals in the NL Wild Card Game on Tuesday in Washington.

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Wong mentioned before Saturday’s game that the magnitude of Sunday’s game will affect his decision for a return. With the division on the line, it will be the most important game the Cardinals have played this season.

“It’s understanding when is the right time," Wong said before Saturday's game. "That’s the biggest question I’m asking the trainers right now. I want to be out there right now when we play today. But if I play today and something happens, I’ll punch myself in the face [wondering], ‘If I waited one more day, what would have happened?’ It’s such a touchy subject right now because of the predicament we’re in.”

Cardinals manager Mike Shildt said he will know Wong’s availability on Sunday morning. With the opinions of the training staff and coaches helping him, Wong will ultimately be the one who decides when he’s ready. But if he’s available in any capacity Sunday, the Cardinals will likely use him. Wong’s defense is unmatched at second base, and his .887 OPS since Aug. 1 could provide the spark the Cardinals need.

While the ache of the hamstring strain suffered Sept. 19 at Wrigley Field is still there, Wong said he’s progressed every day. He’s able to hit and take ground balls, but it’s the explosive running that makes Wong hesitate.

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“I’ve understood my game has a speed aspect, which I bring to my defense, baserunning, hitting, being able to put bunts down and beat it out,” Wong said. “That’s my game. If my speed’s not there and I’m hobbling on one leg, I’m really not playing how I should be playing.

“People want me to play, I want to be playing, but the last thing I want is to hurt it one more time. Because if I hurt it one more time, I’m done, the postseason is gone for me. That’s why I’m making sure that if I’m going to put that kind of risk, at least it’s a risk for a right reason.”

Wacha hoping to pitch for Cardinals again

Michael Wacha’s right shoulder strain will prevent him from throwing for the next four to five days, but the 28-year-old facing free agency this offseason is hoping that his season isn’t over.

“It’s probably not the best timing, here at the end of the season when we’re making our push and going to the postseason,” Wacha said. “It is what it is, and you can only control what you can control. I look forward to getting back on the mound as soon as possible, making sure I’m healthy whenever I take the mound again. It kills me not being out there with these boys right now, but I’m looking forward to getting out there as soon as I can.”

Wacha said he is taking it easy over the next few days while getting workouts and treatment in. There is still soreness in the shoulder, but he said he feels better than he did on Wednesday, when the tightness began before his start against the D-backs.

“I’m here for everything else, to help support this team in any way I can," Wacha said. "I definitely wish I was out there.”

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