ST. LOUIS -- Harrison Bader's "engine" keeps pushing him into the Cardinals lineup -- and William Fowler out.
After weeks of creeping his way intermittently into St. Louis' outfield alignment while the club waited for Fowler's struggles to subside, Bader started for the third time in four games Wednesday, batting leadoff when the Cardinals capped a three-game set against the Padres. Mike Matheny hinted that Bader will likely start at least two games this weekend as well, with the Cubs scheduled to pitch two left-handed starters.
Club officials have spent much of the week relenting that they can no longer ignore what Bader's skillset brings to the lineup or what Fowler hasn't, despite his history and contract.
"If you're not in there every day, you're probably not going to be happy, and I get it," Matheny said. "It's not easy. It's hard. There is no great way to handle it except to come in here and keep working."
In the second season of a five-year, $82.5 million contract, Fowler is hitting .172/.274/.285 through 53 games. His defense (-4 Outs Above Average) and speed (27.2 feet per second) are both down, per Statcast™. Overall, his -1.0 fWAR ranks Fowler as the second-worst everyday player in baseball this year. He maintains he's healthy, a year after battling injuries to his feet and legs.
"It's more mental," Fowler said of his struggles. "Obviously, I want to play, and that's no secret. But at the end of the day, I have to make the most of the opportunities when I get them."
Meanwhile, Bader ranks as one of St. Louis' most valuable, despite limited playing time. And he's emerging as one of the game's most skilled in terms of speed and defensive ability. This is where his "engine" -- what he calls his lower back, glute and thigh region -- comes in. Bader said he focuses heavily on those areas during his offseason workouts.
"I'm always working on my legs," Bader said. "That's where my motor comes from. I always try to push and gain as much ground as possible. I try to skip out there."
The results are plain to see. Bader is tied for third among MLB outfielders with 7 Outs Above Average and first in Catch Percentage Added, both Statcast™ metrics used to measure range. His average sprint speed of 30.0 feet per second tie him with Billy Hamilton and Adam Engel for baseball's third fastest player.
Asked when he first knew he was fast, Bader offered a follow-up question.
"What you need to be asking is, 'When did everybody else learn that I was fast?'" he said. "I've been fast for a really long time. These new metrics are helping everyone see that."
Yet they are only a part of what's earning the 24-year-old more playing time. Good, old-fashioned platoon splits are providing evidence for the rest. The right-handed-hitting Bader is hitting lefties at a .314/.400/.600 clip. The switch-hitting Fowler is slashing .091/.225/.091 as a right-handed hitter.
Down a big bat
The Cardinals will be without their most consistent hitter for the entirety of their important weekend series with the Cubs, as Jose Martinez is scheduled to go on the paternity list Friday. Martinez will fly back to his native Venezuela to witness the birth of his second child, a girl.
"It's an important series." Martinez said. "But you can never figure out what God decides."
The Cardinals' everyday No. 3 hitter is slashing .322/.391/.522 on the season, and .472/.525/.972 in June. Luke Voit will replace him on the active roster.
"Babies take precedent," Matheny said. "Big series for us, but that's a monumental life occurrence."
• Greg Holland (hip impingement) will continue his rehab tour through the Minor Leagues at Double-A Springfield this week. Holland's season-long struggles continued at his first stop, Triple-A Memphis, where he allowed three runs and walked four across three appearances.
• Matt Bowman (blisters) is back with the club after a three-game rehab stint at Memphis, and could be activated for the Cubs series.
Funeral arrangements for club icon and Hall of Famer Red Schoendienst, who died last week at age 95, were announced Wednesday. A public mass will be held at the Cathedral Basilica of Saint Louis on Friday at 10 a.m. CT.
The Cardinals signed and introduced three top Draft picks on Wednesday at Busch Stadium: right-handed pitcher Griffin Roberts (No. 43 overall), first baseman Luken Baker (No. 75 overall) and INF Mateo Gil (No. 95 overall). MLB Pipeline's Jim Callis reported Baker signed for $800,000 (slot value: $799,600), while Gil signed for $900,000 (slot value: $587,600). MLB Pipeline's Jonathan Mayo reported the Cardinals signed fifth-round pick Nick Dunn on Wednesday as well.