CHICAGO -- While Aledmys Diaz toils at Triple-A Memphis, seeking to prove he's ready to return to the Majors, his biggest obstacle ahead may be something entirely out of his control.
Paul DeJong has done to Diaz what Diaz did to Jhonny Peralta a year ago, which is nudge him out of a starting job by taking advantage of an opening. For DeJong, that opportunity came in late May, when he was called up to fill a roster spot while Kolten Wong rehabbed an arm injury. DeJong eventually slid to short, where he has solidified himself as a starter.
All the while, he has also quickly wedged himself into impressive company.
His 25 extra-base hits in his first 46 games ranks tied for first in franchise history with Jose Pujols, who tallied as many in his first 45 games in 2001. The only player in the Majors this season with more extra-base hits in his first 46 career games than DeJong is National League Rookie of the Year favorite Cody Bellinger of the Dodgers, who had 26.
With 14 of his extra-base hits coming in July, DeJong has more this month than any other player in the NL. He hit three home runs on this road trip, all of which gave the Cardinals a lead.
"Right now, when you look at how DeJong is playing, there's a lot to like with what you see," said John Mozeliak, Cardinals president of baseball operations.
DeJong has also steadied things defensively. Entering Sunday's series finale, in 206 2/3 innings at short, he has posted a plus-5 Defensive Runs Saved. In comparison, Diaz had a negative-9 DRS upon his demotion.
In addition to hitting a go-ahead home run Saturday, DeJong registered a career-high seven assists at the position.
"I see an aggressiveness with the first step," manager Mike Matheny said. "I like the way the ball is carrying across the infield, too. He's making strong throws. He obviously has enough of an arm to throw from deep shortstop. Everything -- coming in, left to right, positioning, communication -- those are all things I think he's needed to improve on, and he certainly has."
The strong first impression has, at least temporarily, hushed questions about whether DeJong's best long-term fit will be at short. It remains his spot for now.
"The way he's going about it defensively, it's hard to see him being anywhere else right now," Matheny said. "And you mix in the offense and what he's capable of doing, that really puts him as a pretty special shortstop."