White-hot Munoz seizing Cards' shortstop role

Rookie taking advantage of opportunity afforded by DeJong's injury; C-Mart, Molina should return Tuesday

June 3rd, 2018

ST. LOUIS -- By the time had run the bases, fielded a throw and yanked a hanging slider across the infield, biting his tongue through two innings, he could no longer ignore the throbbing in his left hand. His reasons for completing that May 17 loss to the Phillies -- despite breaking the fifth metacarpal in his left hand in the eighth -- were twofold.

"I was telling myself it wasn't that bad, hoping for the best," DeJong said. "But I knew we didn't have another shortstop."

That's not a slight at St. Louis' infield personnel as much as it is a reality of its roster. had already been used by the time DeJong was struck by a slider, and is more comfortable at second or third. Nowhere are the Cardinals less insured than at shortstop, which is why officials targeted middle-infield depth in the trade that sent to Oakland this winter. In return, they received , who has provided that depth.

"Opportunities present themselves, so take advantage of them," Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said. "We're witnessing a player take advantage of an opportunity. "

Now in his second stint with the big league club, Munoz has grabbed a more-or-less everyday hold on the shortstop job after a white-hot two weeks. His start there Sunday was his 10th in 16 games since DeJong was forced to the disabled list, and eighth in the last nine games. The rookie is hitting .389 with two home runs -- including a dramatic, three-run walk-off Thursday -- over that span.

In the process, he's brought at least short-term certainty to a position the club originally planned to cycle Munoz, Garcia and Gyorko through in DeJong's absence. Matheny will still do so, in a sense, spotting Garcia and Gyorko there occasionally based on matchups. They each started twice at short in the four games immediately following DeJong's injury.

"Watching how Yairo has taken advantage of this opportunity defensively and at the plate is a great example of what you have to do when you get backed into a corner," Matheny said.

DeJong, the runner-up for the NL's Rookie of the Year Award last year, was the only Cardinals' player to start every game before his injury. He led the team in home runs and Fangraphs WAR at the time.

"I feel thankful they gave me the opportunity to be here," Munoz said, through interpreter Carlos Villoria. "And show that I belong at this level."

Around the horn

• Three days after tossing four innings in a rehab start, completed a scheduled bullpen session at Busch Stadium on Sunday without issue, lining him up to return from the disabled list Tuesday against the Marlins. Sidelined since May 9 with a strained lat, Martinez missed four turns through the Cardinals' rotation.

• The Cardinals are planning to synchronize Martinez's return with that of , who was set to make his final rehab appearance at Double-A Springfield on Sunday. Molina caught five innings and went 0-1 with a sac fly in his first of two scheduled appearances on Saturday. He was also hit in the back by a pitch. He's scheduled to catch at least seven innings on Sunday, and if all goes well, catch Martinez on Tuesday.

(blisters) threw between 50-60 pitches in a bullpen Friday that could expedite his return from the disabled list. The righty is planning to embark on a rehab assignment sometime next week.

Draft preview

The Cardinals will make their first first-round selection in two years when the MLB Draft begins Monday night at 5 p.m. CT on MLB Network and MLB.com. St. Louis did not pick until the third round last June, forfeiting early picks due to free-agent signings and as punishment for the Astros breach.

• Cardinals 2018 Draft preview

The Cardinals have three selections on Day 1 this year: picks No. 19, No. 43 and No. 75. The Draft will resume with Rounds 3-10 on Tuesday, and Rounds 11-40 on Wednesday.