Winn's improved approach, trademark arm make big impact

Shortstop's clutch ninth-inning hit not enough to best Phillies in series opener

April 9th, 2024

ST. LOUIS -- The fact that Cardinals manager Oliver Marmol never once considered pinch-hitting for in Monday’s ninth inning with St. Louis trailing by a run says plenty about just how much the rookie shortstop has improved at the plate from the end of last season.

That point wasn’t made late Monday night after the Cardinals dropped a 5-3 decision to the Phillies in 10 innings at Busch Stadium. Instead, it came from Winn, who patiently lined a single between third and shortstop in the bottom of the ninth to push the game into extras. A season ago, Winn insisted, that at-bat likely wouldn’t have gone that way at all.

“Last year, I probably would have tried to hit a bomb to win it,” Winn said candidly following a night in which he was the only Cardinal with two hits. “We’ve got some other guys in the lineup for [home runs], so for me, I was just trying to put it in play and hope that something good would happen.”

Plenty of good happened for Winn, who worked with starting pitcher Miles Mikolas and first baseman Paul Goldschmidt to keep the Cardinals within striking distance on a night when the middle of the order fell flat offensively. The Cardinals were 2-for-12 with runners in scoring position and left eight runners on base largely because of the continued struggles of Nolan Gorman (0-for-5, 2 K's), Nolan Arenado (1-for-5, 3 K's) and Goldschmidt (1-for-5, 2 K's).

Meanwhile, Winn had an opposite-field single in the fifth and his single in the ninth plated pinch-runner Michael Siani to knot the game at 3. Those hits boosted his batting average to a team-best .333 11 games into the season.

“He’s doing a really nice job of really slowing the game down and not trying to do too much,” Marmol said. “He’s using the whole field and he’s understanding what type of hitter he needs to be. He takes that at-bat there [in the ninth] and it was good for him to come through because that’s something he can build on.”

The Cardinals certainly love the defensive foundation from which Winn can build on. In the second inning, Winn made a diving stop to rob Nick Castellanos of a hit and his wayward throw was snagged by a diving Goldschmidt. In the eighth, Winn was able to double up Phillies superstar Bryce Harper with a 91.9 mph throw that was his second-fastest of the season.

The eye-popping arm strength of Winn caught the attention of Goldschmidt and Mikolas.

“I don’t know if it’ll be this year, but if he doesn’t win a Gold Glove, I’ll be very surprised -- or multiple [Gold Gloves],” Goldschmidt raved. “I mean, it’s more than just his arm. He has great range and makes great plays and his arm sticks out. With some of those double plays, he comes across and throws a guy out with throws where most guys aren’t doing that. He’s made diving stops in the hole and has played some all-around great defense for us.”

“You don’t see a guy move like that with an arm like that too often, so it’s super fun to watch. I’ve just got to make sure that I’m throwing harder than he is or he might start giving me some trouble. It’s incredible to watch,” said Mikolas, who allowed just six hits and two earned runs over 6 2/3 innings. “Sometimes, you think that guy is going to beat the throw by half a step and then the ball is zipping over there.”

Confidence in the field or with his 80-grade throwing arm has never been an issue. Overconfidence at the plate, however, got Winn in trouble late last season when he got his callup to the big leagues. The former No. 2 prospect in the Cards’ system hit just .172 over 122 at-bats last season after breaking into the big leagues. More struggles came this spring when he hit just .227 with a .638 OPS in 44 at-bats, but Winn said those moments helped to ram home what kind of hitter he needs to be going forward to assist a struggling Cardinals offense that can use all the help it can get right now.

“When I see a hole on the right side, I don’t need to get swing happy and try to pull a homer; use that hole, get a single and pass the baton,” Winn said. “Last year gave me a base of how pitchers were going to pitch me, and I was very chase happy. But it’s getting better every day now.”