Wong takes yoga hoping to stay healthy in '18

After another injury-shortened year, Cardinals second baseman focuses on flexibility

February 20th, 2018

JUPITER, Fla. -- Every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday night this spring, assembles a tripod and, just before bed, he calls home.

It's the middle of the afternoon in Hawaii, where a man named Scoop Slyman answers to talk Wong through his newest obsession -- strength yoga.

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Wong went into the winter looking to improve his flexibility after back and shoulder injuries somewhat sullied what was a career year in 2017. That led the Cardinals' second baseman to Slyman, who trained Wong's wife, Alissa, as a track and field athlete at the University of Hawaii.

Slyman carved out a specific plan for Wong he calls "strength yoga" that the Cardinals infielder plans to continue throughout the season.

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"Back, elbows, shoulders, I didn't have the flexibility in those areas. I didn't have good range," Wong said. "It's constantly making me feel better."

Now, entering his sixth big league season, Wong no longer qualifies as the bulkiest player in Cardinals camp. That honor goes to outfield prospect , whose biceps have been a topic of conversation since he reported to Jupiter earlier this week.

In Wong's mind, he's better off. A self-described "high-intensity guy," Wong credits yoga for reshaping his body and priorities. Focusing only on strength in the past, Wong said, led to injuries.

Wong's only full season at the big league level came in 2015, when he played 150 games. Last year, he set career-high marks in batting average, on-base percentage and slugging, but played just 108 games.

"The fact that I couldn't do the yoga class without struggling, that said something about my body," Wong said. "If I cant lift my body up, why am I lifting all these weights?"

His focus now is on being limber, durable and at peace with his play.

"The biggest thing is the mental side of yoga," Wong said. "Even though it hurts like [crazy], being able to hold it with grace and understanding if you just breathe, it's going to feel better in the end. I started taking that into the mental aspect of baseball. Understanding slumps and all these things are going to happen. I have to breathe and let things take their course."

Gant's great delivery gone

For years, inspired double takes and long looks with his unorthodox delivery. The sinkerballing right-hander would lift his leg, not once, but twice, before delivering a pitch out of the windup.

This spring, Gant is throwing from a windup much more nondescript. He still steps to the side, but he eliminated the extra step after Major League Baseball ruled it illegal last season.

Gant was starting in Triple-A Memphis when the league notified Redbirds pitching coach Bryan Eversgerd (now the Cardinals' bullpen coach) that it deemed Gant's extra step illegal, citing rule 5.07(a)(1).

Rule 5.07(a)(1) states: "The pitcher shall stand facing the batter, his pivot foot in contact with the pitcher's plate and the other foot free. From this position, any natural movement associated with his delivery of the ball to the batter commits him to the pitch without interruption or alteration. He shall not raise either foot from the ground, except that in his actual delivery of the ball to the batter, he may take one step backward, and one step forward with his free foot."

That Gant was essentially using a separate leg lift to kick-start his delivery, made the entire motion unlawful. If Gant continued to pitch with it, he risked ejection.

"I'm actually kind of happy it's gone," Gant said. "It looked ridiculous."

Close call

The first day of live batting practice led to a scary moment in Cardinals camp Tuesday, when third baseman was hit on the helmet by a pitch from .

Wisdom, who has played the past two seasons at Triple-A, watched the rest of the workout after passing preliminary tests. He isn't expected to miss any time.