Notes: Bader tater; early spring hiccups

February 24th, 2020

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- spent the offseason in Miami, working on his swing with hitting instructor Lorenzo Garmendia. After a down year at the plate that included being optioned to Triple-A Memphis for three weeks, the Cardinals' center fielder knew he needed to rework his swing and get back to driving the ball.

But he won’t get into the specifics of all that he did this winter.

“I’m more of a 'how' guy than a 'why' guy,” Bader said last week. “I’m not gonna talk about why I do certain things. Just kind of go out there and just show you how I do it.”

In the Cardinals’ 3-3 Grapefruit League tie with the Mets on Sunday, Bader showed how. Batting leadoff in his spring debut, Bader crushed the second pitch from Mets starter Steven Matz over the left-field wall at Clover Park. He also doubled in the third inning.

“It’s going to be a big key for him, letting the game come to him, especially runners in scoring position,” Cardinals manager Mike Shildt said. “Did a nice job, looked under control, was hitting the ball well. Just put a good swing on it.”

Bader, 25, is viewed as the incumbent center fielder in a crowded outfield. His defense is invaluable, but he needs to improve from last season to stay in the lineup. Part of that improvement will come with better plate discipline, especially with offspeed pitches, and finding his identity as a hitter -- versatile, not always trying to crush home runs.

“Kolten [Wong] went through that phase where he got in that, ‘What kind of player do I need to be?’” Shildt said. “He’s got the power. Harrison’s exit speed is right there at the top of our club. But he also wants to make sure he’s able to [have] a swing that can cover a lot of different pitches, especially spin. He worked real hard to do that.”

Watching Bader’s swing decodes a little of what he worked on this winter. He has a shorter stride and a one-handed finish vs. a two-handed finish like last year.

He’s in control of the swing, Shildt said.

“I see Harrison more under control,” Shildt said. “The difference in the swing, it’s more of a controlled swing, but he’s under control. He’s under control with his eyes and under control with his body, and he’s just letting the game come to him a little bit. Like most guys when they do that, they’re in a good spot.”

At Winter Warm-Up in January, Bader declared himself the Cardinals’ starting center fielder. He knows he has to move on from last year and prove that he can bounce back.

“Last year was last year, it’s in the past, it’s part of growth, it’s part of the process involved here,” Bader said. “This game is so great because you have to prove yourself every day. It’s a big year for me as well. Two years in this organization -- time to prove myself and really set out there and become a center fielder not only for this year, but for a long time coming.”

Wainwright, Martínez lose some command in second innings
threw 38 pitches (18 strikes) and allowed a home run in 1 2/3 innings Sunday afternoon. He was in control in the first inning, but he lost some of it in the second, similar to what Opening Day starter Jack Flaherty experienced Saturday and what experienced in the third and fourth innings following Wainwright on Sunday.

“Fastball command was good in the first inning,” Wainwright said. “Second inning, I got a little jumpy, not so good. Ball started getting up, and that’s why you saw [Jake] Marisnick hit a home run and another guy hit the ball hard.

“I’ve been really quality down all spring, in practice and sides and live BP. First time out today, you sit down and get back up again. So it’s why we’re in Spring Training.”

Shildt wasn’t worried about either Wainwright or Martínez. Pitchers have to get into the rhythm of facing hitters in a live game, as well as sitting in the dugout for a half-inning before running back to the mound for their second. Martínez threw 34 pitches and walked two in 1 1/3 innings.

“Just didn’t control counts,” Shildt said. “Ran the pitch count up, and that was that. But the ball was coming out for both of them clean. All the stuff you want to see and expect the first time out, we were able to see."

Pitching plans
Monday’s pitching plans include a pair of last year’s relievers competing for a spot in the rotation, with John Gant scheduled to start and throw two innings (or 35 pitches) against the Marlins at Roger Dean Stadium. Ryan Helsley (two innings or 35 pitches) will follow. Both were vital relievers last year and have been named as candidates for the open closer role, but both are also eyeing a spot in the rotation as Miles Mikolas deals with a right flexor tendon strain. Junior Fernandez, Zack Thompson, Alvaro Seijas, Matthew Liberatore and Kodi Whitley are all scheduled to throw one inning (25 pitches) as well. First pitch is scheduled for 12:05 p.m. CT, live on Fox Sports Midwest and MLB.TV.

Austin Gomber will start Tuesday against the Nationals, with Alex Reyes likely to follow.

Sosa, Schrock shine late
The two infielders who helped the Cardinals win their exhibition opener Saturday with late defensive plays helped the Cardinals end Sunday’s game in a tie and not a loss.

Trailing the Mets 3-1 in the eighth inning, tripled to right-center and came home on ’s home run to left field. Schrock nearly won the game with a two-out single in the ninth, but Evan Mendoza was thrown out at the plate trying to score. Both Sosa and Schrock are competing for a bench role with the Cardinals this season.

Sosa impressed the Cardinals in the Dominican Winter League this offseason and is viewed as one of the better defensive players in camp. Now, Shildt is looking for consistency at the plate.

“Hits the ball to right, has that short, quick stroke,” Shildt said. “That’s the importance of being able to hit a fastball, to have bat speed. Be able to drive the ball with the fastball, but also wait and see the breaking ball. So it’s a mature hitter. He’s turning into one, and he’s solid defensively.”