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Cards see a lot to be excited about in DeJong

Consistency key for young infielder, but Matheny admires how he 'plays the game the right way'
MLB.com

PHILADELPHIA -- Even before the Cardinals drafted Paul DeJong in the fourth round of the 2015 MLB Draft, he was already a Redbird -- an Illinois State Redbird, that is.

In his first Minor League season, DeJong -- coming off two red-hot seasons at Illinois State -- knew his time in the big leagues could be looming closer than some expected. He was promoted to the Class A Peoria Chiefs from Rookie-level ball in his first pro season.

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PHILADELPHIA -- Even before the Cardinals drafted Paul DeJong in the fourth round of the 2015 MLB Draft, he was already a Redbird -- an Illinois State Redbird, that is.

In his first Minor League season, DeJong -- coming off two red-hot seasons at Illinois State -- knew his time in the big leagues could be looming closer than some expected. He was promoted to the Class A Peoria Chiefs from Rookie-level ball in his first pro season.

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"That's when I kind of knew I was getting pushed a little bit," DeJong, the Cards' No. 11 prospect per MLBPipeline.com, said after a 5-1 loss to the Phillies on Thursday, during which he homered for the Cardinals' lone run.

DeJong's next game will be his 20th in the big leagues after being called up on May 28. Cardinals manager Mike Matheny likes what he's seen in his glimpse of the versatile infielder thus far -- although days like Thursday, when DeJong made a defensive miscue, and Wednesday, when he went 0-for-4 with four strikeouts, will happen for a player so young.

"He's done a nice job," Matheny said. "Everybody kind of has those days where it just doesn't work -- like at the plate yesterday or in the field like it was today -- but he's got a real nice idea of how to play the game, plays the game the right way."

That advanced know-how and the ability to fill numerous roles across the infield sticks out for Matheny, almost as if it were engrained in DeJong's DNA. As it happens, a double-helix tattoo winds across the left side of DeJong's torso, the two strands combined by the laces of a baseball.

But through those performance peaks and valleys as he continues to adjust to Major League action, DeJong knows he must maintain a clear mind and steady approach.

"It's been up and down; I think I'd be more consistent," DeJong said. "That's what I'm striving for every day, to be more consistent. That's just baseball -- you're going to have the ups and downs, but you've got to try to be even-keeled as much as you can."

"I think he's been taught the game the right way," Matheny said. "He sees the game the way he should, makes adjustments when he has to. He just has a higher level of game sense and self-awareness than most players with as little experience as he's had."

It's what allows days like Wednesday to be followed up by Thursday's homer.

"[I] battled, saw some tough pitches and finally got one that I could hit and put a good swing on it," DeJong said of his homer to left field, the only run the Cards scored off a locked-in Aaron Nola. "But still, we were down two runs, so just passing the baton on to the next guy."

"He comes up with some big at-bats," Matheny said. "He put us on the board today. I've seen a lot of things you've got to be excited about."

Ben Harris is a reporter for MLB.com based in Philadelphia who covered the Cardinals on Thursday.

St. Louis Cardinals, Paul DeJong