ST. LOUIS -- The Cardinals’ already wonky outfield picture has hit another bump.
Manager Mike Shildt said on Sunday morning that O’Neill’s imaging came back positive, but rather than playing short a player for three or four days -- how long the Cards expect O’Neill to be fully unserviceable -- they elected to make a slew of roster moves under the pretense that groin injuries can linger.
Outfielder Lane Thomas and right-hander Johan Oviedo were called up ahead of the rubber game against Milwaukee; right-hander Jake Woodford, who pitched on Saturday, was optioned after the loss to open up the second roster spot.
Without O’Neill, the Cardinals will likely split playing time in left field between right-handed-hitting Austin Dean and the left-handed Justin Williams. John Nogowski could also get some reps. Meanwhile, Thomas could see the bulk of starts in center and Dylan Carlson would shift to right, which is how the duo was aligned on Sunday.
Tommy Edman is also a candidate to see more outfield time, which would mean Matt Carpenter receives more starts at second base. An outfield makeup without Edman, though, would make Dean the most experienced big leaguer patrolling the grass -- by a wide margin -- with only 76 career starts.
“You'll see some fluidity,” Shildt said.
O’Neill’s injury is another blow to the Cardinals' outfield, which has seen a lack of production to open the year. Already without Harrison Bader (right forearm injury), who’s slowly ramping up his activity but is not throwing yet, St. Louis outfielders entered Sunday slashing .148/.222/.358, ranking last in the Majors in fWAR (minus-0.3).
The Cards hope Thomas can find some of the success he bottled up at the beginning of Spring Training. The 25-year-old hit at a torrid pace to open his career in 2019 (1.093 OPS in 44 plate appearances), but he was slowed by COVID-19 last season and tapered off as spring progressed.
For O’Neill, the injury derails a rough start to the 2021 season, which came after he posted an impressive .356/.383/.556 slash line in Spring Training. Entering Sunday, the 25-year-old led the National League with 14 strikeouts, and he's batting .143 (4-for-28) across eight games.
Oviedo is slated to fill the swingman role Woodford leaves. Oviedo, St. Louis' No. 9 prospect per MLB Pipeline, had an outside shot at making the rotation during Spring Training, but the Cards elected to consolidate the majority of his work in controlled back-field settings. The 23-year-old debuted last season, compiling a 5.47 ERA across 24 2/3 innings.
DeJong dropped a spot
Shildt identified Saturday’s loss to the Brewers -- when Paul DeJong struck out thrice as part of an 0-for-4 day -- as the first time he saw the shortstop truly pressing at the plate. Hitting exclusively cleanup this season, DeJong was flipped with Yadier Molina and dropped to No. 5 on Sunday, in part to get Molina’s steadying bat (.938 OPS through eight games) higher in the lineup.
DeJong hit a pair of solo homers in the second game of the season last Saturday. Since then, he’s 0-for-20 with 11 strikeouts.
“It's interesting, because I do my weekly radio show on KMOX on Sundays, and last Sunday, we're talking about how good DeJong is swinging the bat,” Shildt laughed. “And understandably. It’s a production game. I’m not going to minimize it. ...
“It's not an overreaction to a week of at-bats not as good as he would like. This guy's a talented guy and has been a fixture of our lineup, in there today, and more than capable of helping us win baseball games.”