KANSAS CITY -- Randy Arozarena had to do a double-take. He thought he was dreaming when Triple-A Memphis manager Ben Johnson phoned Arozarena while the outfielder was sleeping to tell him he was getting his first callup to the Major Leagues.
Add Arozarena’s haze with Johnson’s inability to speak Spanish very well -- a two on a 10 scale, Arozarena said kindly -- and Arozarena decided he needed to call his manager back.
It was only after Arozarena, ranked as the Cardinals' No. 12 prospect by MLB Pipeline, confirmed he was really going to the big leagues that he let himself celebrate. And he woke up rather quickly, too.
The long-awaited arrival of the center fielder, who did everything he could in Triple-A to prove he should get a promotion is here, and no one might be happier than Arozarena himself.
“I knew [the callup] was coming and it was close, but I didn’t want to focus my game around that,” Arozarena said, prior to Tuesday's I-70 Series opener against the Royals, through a translator. “I just kept working hard and coming to the ballpark every day, and tried to do my best every day.”
Arozarena wasn't in the starting lineup for Tuesday’s game, but manager Mike Shildt said he’ll find the time for Arozarena soon enough. The challenge comes with balancing playing time with Lane Thomas, who hit the go-ahead grand slam to help the Cards complete a sweep of the Pirates on Sunday.
“Clearly, Lane has played well here and is acclimated here,” Shildt said. “Not to say that Randy won’t, but Lane’s in there [Tuesday]. We’ll evaluate it, and the opportunity will present itself for Randy to play. Both have multiple skillsets that can help you beat the other team. They can do it with their legs, they can do it with their arms, they can do it with the bat.”
Arozarena has a quick bat and aggressive approach at the plate, and he has plus speed on the bases. After his promotion to Memphis in the middle of June, he hit .368/.442/.562, and he was riding an on-base streak of 37 starts.
“I didn’t know what to expect [last year],” Arozarena said. “The biggest difference between Double-A and Triple-A is in Triple-A, you have pitchers who know how to locate the pitches. In Double-A, you have more players who just want to throw the ball hard. So I had to learn how to make the adjustments every night to hit those pitchers. That was the key this year to be able to get more focus, better at-bats, and it’s paid off.”
The 24-year-old Cuban native will wear No. 66 for the Cardinals -- which is also the number worn by Indians outfielder and fellow Cuban Yasiel Puig.
“He’s crazy,” Arozarena said with a laugh.
Arozarena said he might not be as wild as the Wild Horse, but he does try to play similar games, throw the ball as hard and represent their country well.
“It’s something you look up to when you see Cuban players being successful and all the things you have to go through, and the sacrifices you have to make,” Arozarena said. “I think it’s definitely something that keeps you going and keeps you pushing to be your best and make it to the big leagues.”
Martinez hopeful for quick IL stint
Arozarena's callup was the result of Jose Martinez being placed on the 10-day injured list with a right shoulder AC joint sprain. Martinez sustained the injury in Sunday's game when he bumped into the outfield wall making a catch. He exited the game in the top of the fifth inning.
Shildt said on Tuesday that Martinez is hoping to start baseball activities within a week and be back at or around the 10-day mark.
Rotation set for Cincinnati
The Cardinals will open a four-game series against the Reds with right-hander Michael Wacha (6-5, 5.54 ERA)on the mound on Thursday night. Wacha struggled in his last start -- when he gave up six runs in 3 2/3 innings against the Dodgers -- which caused the Cards to skip his spot in the rotation over the past week using the off-days.
Wacha earned wins in his last seven appearances at Great American Ball Park, starting or in relief. His last outing was on July 19, when he threw 1 2/3 innings of relief in the Cardinals’ 12-11 win.
Adam Wainwright (8-8, 4.35) will start on Friday, with Miles Mikolas (7-12, 4.13) on Saturday and Jack Flaherty on Sunday.