ST. LOUIS -- The Cardinals maintain hope the tightness in Tommy Pham's groin dissipates enough for the center fielder to avoid the disabled list, possibly returning to the starting lineup as early as Thursday in San Diego. But the way Harrison Bader has played in his place allows the club
ST. LOUIS -- The Cardinals maintain hope the tightness in Tommy Pham's groin dissipates enough for the center fielder to avoid the disabled list, possibly returning to the starting lineup as early as Thursday in San Diego. But the way Harrison Bader has played in his place allows the club to remain cautious with Pham, in many ways their best player once again this season.
Starting for Pham on Tuesday for the third straight game, Bader has now spent two stints as his understudy, during which he's opened eyes with his hard-nose play and impressive defense.
"Harrison gives off that feeling that he's running through the wall every time he gets an opportunity," Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said. "You hate to single him out, but something stands out about how hard he goes. I guess if any of us could run like that, we'd run everywhere. He's not going to pull up short ever on a fly ball. Dex [Fowler] is giving effort, but it looks different because it's a different style. For some reason with Harrison, it really stands out, that effort."
The Cardinals have long known Bader could be a plus defender, a point they championed even after choosing to break camp this spring without him. Now the league is beginning to catch on. The 23-year-old ranked among the top outfielders in baseball through 24 games by two Statcast™ metrics meant to measure range.
Bader was tied for first with five Outs Above Average, which uses catch probability to rank outfielders on the difficulty of the plays they make and the frequency at which they make them. Bader's five OAA are tied with Washington's Michael A. Taylor and Cincinnati's Billy Hamilton for the MLB lead. Byron Buxton paced the category by a wide margin in 2017.
Bader also entered play Tuesday leading all outfielders in Catch Percentage Added, considered the most reflective of Statcast™'s outfield metrics. CPA uses Catch Probability data to measures the difference between expected catch percentage and actual catch percentage. Bader's 11 percent added means he's completed that many more difficult plays than the average outfielder.
"I firmly believe you're only as good a defender as you put into it. It's really in your control. It's about attitude and effort every day," Bader said. "It comes naturally because I work tirelessly on it."
Bader could find himself back in a reserve role by the end of the week, with the Cardinals' healthy outfield unit of Pham, Fowler and Marcell Ozuna again making starting chances scarce. But if Pham's injury lingers or recurs down the road (it already has twice), Bader is proving he can at least help alleviate the loss.
"[Pham] felt good today, but we're still trying to take advantage of today and tomorrow's off-day and have him ready to go without any more delays," Matheny said. "Love to see guys taking advantage of those opportunities when they come, and Harrison has been playing well on both sides."
Wainwright's return date fluid
Adam Wainwright reported no issues the day after tossing five innings in a rehab start, but his status remains fluid as to when the right-hander will return from the disabled list. Wainwright is scheduled to throw a bullpen Thursday, after which the club will decide further. He could return as early as Sunday against the Padres, or he could make another rehab appearance.
The 36-year-old has missed two turns through the rotation due to elbow inflammation, but because of off-days, he technically missed just one start.
"Let me know if you hear anything," Wainwright said.
Joe Trezza is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @joetrezz.