Carlson gives Cards glimpse of big potential

September 23rd, 2020

This is the the Cardinals knew they had. It’s all coming together for the Cardinals’ No. 1 prospect right now -- and at the most opportune time.

Carlson finished a homer shy of the cycle as part of a three-hit game during the Cardinals’ 5-0 win over the Royals at Kauffman Stadium. The victory evened the three-game series and put the Cardinals firmly in second place in the National League Central, two games ahead of the Reds and Brewers, who are fighting it out in Cincinnati this week. The Brewers evened their three-game series on Tuesday.

Since being recalled from the Cardinals’ alternate training site on Friday, Carlson has shown more comfort in the batter’s box -- and with it, more production. He is 6-for-18 with two doubles, a home run and six RBIs. Even his final at-bat Tuesday, a deep flyout to left field, finished on a solid swing when he took a 2-1 breaking ball the other way.

“I knew I hit it well,” Carlson said. “I knew I also got under it a little bit. Hoping something could happen there, but I was glad to put another good swing on the ball.”

That’s what the Cardinals wanted to see when they recalled him from the Springfield camp to help the team down the stretch in this final week. Carlson’s first Major League stint didn’t go how he or the club planned, when he hit .162 in 23 games. They sent him to Springfield to reset, evaluate and return with a fresh mind.

“He really was a product of just having some tough luck when he first came up here, and then kind of pressing after that slow start,” Matt Carpenter said. “But we all know what kind of talent he has and his ability. What I appreciate out of him the most is his willingness to learn and listen to older guys and make adjustments. He’s very mature for his age, and he’s going to have a very good career here in St. Louis.”

Carlson’s talent includes above-average hitting ability, plus power and instinctual defensive skills. All of those, plus a fresh mind and body, could help this Cardinals offense struggling to show consistency each night. St. Louis has been able to get runners on, but it has stumbled getting them home. Even on Tuesday, the Cards were 3-for-13 with runners in scoring position and struck out 10 times in 30 at-bats.

Cards president of baseball operations John Mozeliak acknowledged that fatigue could be one of the factors limiting the offense lately, and manager Mike Shildt agreed -- the Cardinals are in the final stretch of 53 games in 44 days -- but both suggested that the club isn’t looking for excuses; it’s “solution-based," Shildt said.

The solution Tuesday was to execute the approach that Carlson helped create. Carlson saw Royals starter Brady Singer in the Minors and had success off against him -- he was 2-for-4 with a double and a home run last season -- so he shared some information about what to expect from the right-hander, who had a no-hitter going into the eighth inning against the Indians his last start. The Cardinals forced Singer to throw 81 pitches in three-plus innings, including a career-high five walks, and Carlson had two of the three hits Singer allowed.

“He gave some good idea about what he was going to do, how the ball was going to look, how he was going to approach things,” Shildt said. “It was spot on, and he listened to his own advice as well.”

Carlson’s night backed up lefty 's six shutout innings. Gomber allowed just four hits, struck out three and walked zero. Fifty-two of his 76 pitches were strikes, as Gomber slotted in the rotation for Dakota Hudson, who was placed on the 45-day injured list Tuesday. Gomber gave the Cardinals an emergency start and an idea of what the rotation could look like as they head toward a possible second straight postseason berth.

“That’s kind of been the role that I’ve been in this year, bouncing back and forth, but the way I look at it is it’s better to be involved than not be involved, right?” Gomber said. “So whatever they want me to do, I’ll be fine with. Obviously, losing Dak, it’s tough. He’s been really good for us this year, really good last year. For me taking his start tonight, I was just trying to do what Dak has been doing.”