Versatile Carlson sparks Cards wherever he hits in the order

June 29th, 2022

ST. LOUIS -- When it comes to versatility and adaptability for Cardinals rising star Dylan Carlson, that challenge involves so much more than just him being able to slide between right field and center field defensively when needed.

Not only is Carlson considered to be a five-tool player who also switch-hits, he has the uncanny ability to hit anywhere in the Cardinals’ lineup. That’s a good thing since he has hit in all nine spots in the St. Louis order this season. The 23-year-old Carlson is one of 36 players to have hit in all nine spots. Among the players who have at least four plate appearances in all nine spots in the order this season are Carlson, Max Kepler, Sheldon Neuse, Luis Rengifo and Julio Rodríguez.

Each spot, Carlson insisted, requires something of an adjustment in mindset and awareness. Because the former first-round pick has the speed to leg out singles and then steal second, the Cardinals don’t mind slotting him at the top of the order -- in front of sluggers Paul Goldschmidt and Nolan Arenado. And because Carlson can also drive the ball deep -- as he did Tuesday when he drilled one over the head of Miami right fielder Avisaíl García for the go-ahead RBI in a 5-3 Cardinals come-from-behind victory at Busch Stadium -- he can provide protection for the sluggers by hitting lower in the lineup.

“I’m pretty sure I’ve hit in every single spot in the lineup this year and I’ve done it before in the past, too,” said Carlson, who was 2-for-4 with two RBIs from the No. 2 spot Tuesday. “It’s just about knowing the game, knowing the situations and being able to understand where you are at that night. There are certain situations that happen, like hitting second today in front of Goldy and Nolan and knowing you might see some pitches later in counts that you don’t see in other spots. It’s just about taking into account the different situations and understanding what’s going on around you.”

In addition to taking over as the Cardinals' everyday center fielder while Harrison Bader (right foot plantar fasciitis, 10-day IL) is out, Carlson has been dialed in at the plate in recent weeks. Of his past 14 hits, 10 have gone for extra bases (seven doubles, one triple and two home runs). Also, he has at least one extra-base hit in each of the Cardinals past four games -- three of which have been wins.

“Guys around me have been taking good at-bats and putting me in position where pitchers have to come into the zone,” said Carlson, who registered the 100th RBI of his young career Tuesday after the Cardinals had fallen behind 3-0. “I’m trying to take advantage of it and be consistent. It’s cool to see everybody hitting and cool to play behind every night. Anybody in our lineup could beat you, and that makes the game a lot more interesting and a lot more competitive.”

From the start of the season, Cardinals manager Oliver Marmol has said his team’s lineup would prove to be a storyline of the season. He boldly made that statement because he likes how players such as Tommy Edman, Brendan Donovan, Juan Yepez and Carlson give the team some legitimate length from top to bottom. Thus far, that has proven true, as the Cardinals are first in the National League in runs (second in MLB), third in batting average, first in RBIs, fourth in slugging, tied for third in OPS and seventh in home runs.

“Scoring runs is important, and we’re in the top of the league in doing that,” Marmol said jokingly. “I like our offense, I like what we’re able to do, and there are different ways we can win. And we’ve got some young guys who are contributing. We’ve got some guys out of this lineup due to injury, and we’re still winning ball games and we’re scoring runs. We had a good hitters' meeting today, and I like where we are mentally, our approach and what we’re doing.”

Marmol obviously likes how Carlson is driving the ball now after struggling to do so early in the season when he was in the lead-off spot. Now, Carlson is stinging the ball well again -- but he still wants to be better.

“I don’t think I’ve gotten to a point where my game is where it should be,” he said. “In my mind, I still have a lot to work on on both sides of the plate. For now, I’m just trying to be consistent and do as much damage as I can each time up.”