ST. LOUIS -- Having already taken four to five times as many pregame swings as he normally does, Randal Grichuk spent the final minutes of the Cardinals' afternoon batting-practice session watching from the edge of the outfield grass, just beyond second base.
Manager Mike Matheny stood alongside Grichuk, the two chatting about various topics, some about baseball and others far from it. When the conversation neared an end, Matheny left the searching young outfielder with snippets of advice: Take a breath. Be realistic. And take close notes right now, because it's not going to be the last time you struggle.
That was Saturday, the first of two days that Matheny unplugged his Opening Day cleanup hitter from the lineup. Grichuk was 1-for-14 with eight strikeouts, and he was self-admittedly swimming in his own head. Matheny urged him to get out of it.
"Don't get too deep into your mind overthinking this thing, because it's just that you're not picking the ball up," Matheny advised. "You have the same swing path that you had in Spring Training that all of us were just glowing about. It's just pitch recognition at this point."
Grichuk flied out in a pinch-hit at-bat that night, but he started to turn a corner after entering midgame Sunday. In three plate appearances, he drew three walks, a first for the notoriously free-swinging outfielder. In fact, Grichuk had never before taken two free passes in a game.
The pitch recognition that had escaped Grichuk through the season's first four games was showing signs of coming back.
"I think the work helped," Grichuk said of the two-on-one pregame hitting session he had with hitting coach John Mabry and assistant hitting coach Derrick May on Saturday. "We were hitting the slider machine pretty hard, and I think that helps with your vision. I feel like I'm going out there and trying to trust it."
Grichuk also saw the benefit of getting out of his own way.
"I think I put a little too much pressure on myself the first few games," Grichuk added. "When you're trying to do too much and you're not seeing it, it's a bad combination."
Monday represented another forward step, as Grichuk, back in the starting lineup, connected on a breaking pitch for an RBI double, drew two more walks and capped his day with a ninth-inning single. He joked that the five walks in a two-day period might be more than he's had in any month.
It wasn't much of an exaggeration. Grichuk had five walks in a month only once last season.
Even with Jeremy Hazelbaker's torrid start to this season, the Cardinals plan to keep Grichuk involved. Moving Matt Holliday to first base allows both to have a place in the outfield.
"To go from where he was, and then to find ways to be productive and figure how to just pick up the ball a little better, [what] great strides," Matheny said. "He's worked his way through this, and hopefully, that's something he learns from for the long haul."