Nolan Arenado will admit that there’s still some kinks to iron out. Like anyone making a major career move from one time zone to another, there are natural changes in mindset and perspectives to work through.
“I'd be lying if I said I'm sitting here 100 percent comfortable with everything that's going on,” Arenado said before Saturday’s game against the Reds in Cincinnati. “It's taking time, and it's going to take a little bit of time.”
But when he stepped into the box for his first at-bat as a Cardinal in Thursday’s Opening Day win over the Reds -- “a pretty surreal moment,” he said -- some of those jitters subsided for a second, simply back to doing what he loves to do: mashing a baseball.
And it didn’t hurt who was sitting on second base.
“I was like, 'I can't believe I'm here right now,’” Arenado said. “‘I got [Paul] Goldschmidt hitting in front of me.'"
Arenado’s first go sporting the birds on the bat was a smashing success, a large part of an 11-6 drubbing that featured a 2-for-5 day, including an RBI single to score Goldschmidt in the second. Comfort from an organizational perspective has never been an issue, with an opening for him to play at third base and a natural spot in the batting order at No. 3, behind Goldschmidt -- the club’s first-inning “punch in the face,” according to manager Mike Shildt.
If these showings are the growing pains that Arenado endures, the Cards won’t complain.
The Cardinals lost, 9-6, in Arenado's second game on Saturday, but he went 2-for-5 with his first home run.
Arenado is finding adjustments to be made. He no longer cares as much where he hits in the batting order, a stance that he’s changed since arriving in St. Louis, he said. He’ll have to get used to the windier conditions of the National League Central ballparks.
“No more going to Southern California on a weekend series anymore,” the native of SoCal said.
Making the changes has been easier with who he’s made them alongside: close friends Goldschmidt and Matt Carpenter, longtime role model Yadier Molina -- “When you're on a field with Yadi, you don't want to be the one letting the team down,” Arenado said -- and youngsters who look to learn from him as he learns from them.
The Cardinals long saw a positional and organizational fit with Arenado, and there’s still no doubt about it. Changes are natural and to be expected; just like breaking in a new third baseman’s glove.
Some things will never change, though.
“I've had a few days off,” Arenado grinned. “Not a fan of that.”
• Kwang Hyun Kim (back tightness) is slated for a simulated game Tuesday in Jupiter, Fla., Shildt said, which will be his second since appearing in a Grapefruit League game on March 27. With the Cards in Miami from Monday through Wednesday, Shildt added that it remains possible for Kim to return to the club on the flight back to St. Louis, depending on how he responds to the outing.
• Miles Mikolas is still yet to face live hitters, which he has not done since Feb. 25, though he threw a bullpen session Friday, Shildt said. The plan is for Mikolas (right shoulder soreness) to face live hitters at the alternate training site in Sauget, Ill., in the near future; the bullpen session is a step forward from playing catch and long toss. Mikolas has been penciled in for a late April/early May return following a mid-March shutdown from throwing.
Forming the outfield
Justin Williams started his second consecutive day in right field in Saturday’s tilt with the Reds, and he’ll likely do so against a righty on Sunday as well. In fact, he’s bound to do so any time that the Cardinals face a right-handed starter, Shildt said. Austin Dean is likely to get those reps when it’s a lefty on the mound, which the Cards are set to get for the first time against the Marlins on Monday.
Williams has shown out well in right field in the first sustained starting reps of his career, making an impressive, winding catch off of a Nick Castellanos liner in the second inning Thursday.
Until Harrison Bader (right forearm soreness) returns in late April/early May, the Cardinals' outfield will feature Tyler O’Neill in left, Dylan Carlson in center -- regardless of pitcher handedness -- and Williams in right field vs. righties and Dean vs. lefties. Tommy Edman could spell Carlson a day in center, setting up a starting chance for Carpenter at second, while John Nogowski could also get some time at the corners.