Hazelbaker shows Dodgers what they missed

May 16th, 2016

LOS ANGELES -- There may have been no collective gain from Jeremy Hazelbaker's pinch-hit homer Saturday other than to halve the margin by which the Cardinals lost to the Dodgers, but the seemingly inconsequential two-run blast in a 5-3 loss did hold added significance for the rookie outfielder.

The homer, Hazelbaker's team-leading seventh of the season, came exactly one year after he signed a Minor League deal with the Cardinals to end a period of limbo in which he wondered if he'd get another chance elsewhere. He had become a free agent two weeks earlier after being unexpectedly released from the Dodgers' Double-A roster.

On Saturday, the Dodgers had a front-row seat to watch how far Hazelbaker has climbed since.

"Great timing, to say the least," Hazelbaker said of the home run. "It's a little added incentive to do well and perform [against the Dodgers]. At the same time, I understand that it's a business, and they did what they thought was best for them. I'm not sure what they're thinking [now], but it definitely worked out for me."

Hazelbaker has adapted to a part-time playing role with the Cardinals so well that he has emerged as one of baseball's best pinch-hitters through the season's first six weeks. Entering Sunday, he was 5-for-13 in a pinch-hit role with a double, three homers and six RBIs. Hazelbaker not only leads the Majors with those three pinch-hit home runs, but he has already tied the franchise record for pinch-hit blasts.

It's a record shared by Matt Adams (2013), Marlon Anderson (2004), Ryan Ludwick (2007), Eduardo Perez (2002) and Gerald Perry (1993).

"It's been unbelievable," manager Mike Matheny said of Hazelbaker's impact off the bench. "What he's been able to do is kind of off the charts. I'm really impressed."

Worth Noting

• The Cardinals started Matt Holliday at first base Sunday for the first time since April 15. The organization's plans to use Holliday at the position more regularly were changed by an Opening Day injury to Tommy Pham, who was expected to get some starts in left field against left-handed pitchers. That would have pushed Holliday into the infield.

• Double-A outfielder Harrison Bader extended his hitting streak to 17 games in Double-A Springfield's 5-2 win Sunday. Bader is one game away from tying Springfield's all-time longest hitting streak of 18, which has been done four times previously. Bader, the Cardinals' 10th-ranked prospect per MLBPipeline.com, is batting .364 this season.

• The Cardinals, who entered Sunday having committed a Major League-most 34 errors, including five in the first two games of this series, replaced batting practice with infield practice Sunday. The work lasted about 40 minutes.