Kozma's progress apparent but future unclear
MILWAUKEE -- Though manager Mike Matheny was effusive with his praise of how Pete Kozma had improved and how professionally he handled two weeks of limited playing time while keeping Mark Ellis' roster spot warm, the 26-year-old shortstop heads to Triple-A with his future within the Cardinals' organization uncertain.
The Cardinals' decision to sign Jhonny Peralta to a four-year contract in November and then boost their organizational depth at short with the March addition of Cuban shortstop Aledmys Diaz sent a message -- whether intended or not -- to Kozma that he was not a central part of the team's long-term plans.
Kozma's struggles last season -- he hit .217 in 143 games -- after being named the team's starting shortstop prompted the Cardinals to look elsewhere. So how does Kozma fit after being optioned to Triple-A Memphis on Tuesday?
"I feel good about Pete in general," Matheny said. "You hate to send out a guy who was such an integral part of our club last year on a team that did win the pennant. But we had some great conversations even leading up to yesterday about how he continues to improve and the faith that we have in him as a player and our hopeful expectation that he just keeps improving, because he can play the shortstop position at this level. Just to keep working on the things that he can work on.
"This was a tough assignment coming in here with bringing in a Jhonny Peralta. But Pete came in and did everything right. He said the right things, worked relentlessly, and very proud of how he handled a tough situation."
Kozma did not make a start during the Cards' first two weeks of games and took only three at-bats. He singled in a ninth-inning at-bat in Monday's win over the Brewers.
"That swing he put on yesterday, I don't think you could count very many times he put a swing like that on a pitch [last year], and we were watching it consistently through batting practice, too," Matheny said, pointing to Kozma's improved mechanics. "He needs to trust himself out over the plate where he can cover all pitches. … Sometimes you need some of the struggles to help open your eyes to some of the holes you have in your game. He's making good strides."
The Cardinals will have Kozma play regularly at short in Memphis, with occasional work at third base in case the Cardinals have the need for a versatile infielder later this season.