Healthy and swinging new lumber, Contreras back to mashing

July 8th, 2024

WASHINGTON – Still searching for the timing and tempo that he had with his swing before fracturing his left forearm two months ago, leaned on a change made in recent weeks to help him deliver Sunday’s biggest swing for his Cardinals.

Back to using a 34-inch bat that is an inch longer than normal and somewhat heavier, Contreras was able to adjust to the high fastball he wasn’t anticipating and swatted the baseball 395 feet for a game-sealing home run.

The long ball, the third off Contreras’ bat in the past five games, propelled the Cardinals to an 8-3 defeat of Washington on Sunday at Nationals Park. The two-run home run in the seventh inning – after the Nats had gotten to within 6-3 – was part of a day where Contreras registered two hits and drove in three runs. Finally, he said, his swing is getting closer to resembling the one he had before his gruesome forearm injury suffered on May 7 upon after he was hit by the bat of Mets slugger J.D. Martinez.

“To be honest, I’m still missing some fastballs I shouldn’t be missing and that’s what tells me that my timing is still not at its best,” said Contreras, who had late, game-tying home runs earlier in the week against Pittsburgh and Washington. “When you make good contact in this ballpark, you have the opportunity to hit the ball over the fence.

“I’m just trying to take advantage of what baseball is giving me right now. When there are no hits, there are no hits. Really, I want to celebrate everything right now -- every walk, every single and every homer.”

The Cardinals have plenty of reasons to celebrate as owners of the National League’s best record since May 12 at 32-18. Over the past month, they have lost consecutive games just once. They rebounded from Saturday’s unsightly 14-6 defeat with their 11th victory on the heels of their last 12 losses.

“I feel good about where we are mentally, because win or lose, our guys are like, ‘OK, what do we have to do to win the next game?’” Cardinals manager Oliver Marmol said. “It could be a loss like [Saturday] or a close game, but we don’t get hung up too much on the past. That’s helped us. To lose the way we did [on Saturday] and come out with the energy we did today, it was awesome.”

Much of that energy was provided by the prodigious bats of Nolan Arenado, Nolan Gorman and Contreras. Having already delivered six hits in the first two games of the four-game series, Arenado registered two more hits and two RBIs on Sunday. Arenado, who had the 20th career four-hit game of his career on Friday, improved to 8-for-14 in the series with a second straight two-hit day.

Gorman, who was left out of Friday’s starting lineup so that he could work on cutting down his tendency of pulling off pitches, had two more hits and two RBIs on Sunday. Gorman, who came into Friday hitting .189, is 7-for-11 in the series, which wraps up with a day game on Monday. His opposite-field single in the fourth inning broke a 2-2 tie.

As for Contreras, he singled in the speedy Masyn Winn in the fifth inning to give the Cards a 4-2 lead. In the seventh inning, Contreras was looking for a fastball from Nats reliever Derek Law, but he adjusted well enough to hit the ball 108.9 mph off his bat for the line-drive homer that basically sealed the victory. The bigger, heavier bat, he said, played a role in him smashing a third homer in five days.

“I was a little out front, but I used a 34-[inch] bat, and I was able to stay through the zone longer and that helped me make good contact,” said Contreras, who returned from the forearm injury after just six weeks even though initial medial projections had him out until the MLB All-Star Game. “I used to hit with a 33-inch, 75-[ounce] bat, but I felt like I was missing some pitches that I could have hit better. I went back to the 34 and that helps. I made the change last year for the second half, and this year I went back to a 34 again.”

A healthy Contreras, along with revitalizations from Arenado and Gorman, give the Cardinals a chance of improving against left-handed pitching -- a problem area all season. With those three clicking, the Cards’ potential is great, Contreras said.

“We knew we could hit like this starting the year,” Contreras said. “I know some guys didn’t start the way we wanted, but we’re grinding. Getting those guys hot for the second half is going to be [key].”