ST. LOUIS -- Cardinals manager Oliver Marmol didn’t even need to see Nolan Gorman play regular-season games to surmise quickly that the second-year slugger was already a completely different player.
Neither did Cardinals leadoff hitter Brendan Donovan, who traded pep talks, text messages and, most importantly, video analyses of swings throughout the offseason with his close friend. The Gorman who had an impressive Spring Training and is already terrorizing pitchers is light years away from the one who struggled late last season. This Gorman -- the one laying off high pitches and pouncing on ones he can drive -- is like the one Donovan saw taking hacks on those videos they traded.
“We’re teammates, but we’re friends to start with, and sometimes we don’t even talk baseball,” Donovan said of Gorman, who bettered his buddy’s leadoff home run with two long balls of his own in Sunday’s 9-4 throttling of the Blue Jays at Busch Stadium. “We had a couple of phone calls, text messages, and he shared some video. I was like, ‘Man, this guy looks good.’ I’ve played with him at every level, and I’ve always thought he was good, but I thought, ‘I think he’s taking the next step.’ You look at the results and you can see a difference because he’s not missing pitches.”
Gorman, 22, certainly didn’t miss a 68.3 mph curveball from Toronto’s Chris Bassitt in Sunday’s first inning, driving it a projected 446 feet for the second-longest home run of his brief Major League career. Two innings later, Gorman smoked a Bassitt cutter to the tune of 104.4 mph off the bat and into the Cardinals’ bullpen.
Gorman’s two-homer, four-RBI day was simply a continuation of the improvement he made in the offseason and the stellar way he hit the ball during Spring Training. Through three games, the Cardinals’ new DH is 4-for-9 with two homers, four walks and six RBIs.
“It started to click in the offseason a little bit, and I just wanted to go into Spring Training continuing to do what I was doing in the offseason to get better results and get better swings off,” Gorman said. “I put in a lot of work, and it’s good to see that it’s coming together. I’ve just got to keep putting together good at-bats.”
The Cardinals took plenty of good at-bats in an opening series in which they won two of three games from a Blue Jays team that has World Series ambitions. Over three games, St. Louis pounded out 41 hits and scored 22 runs with a lineup that featured as much depth and versatility as it has had in years.
Bassitt, a Toronto free-agent acquisition who surrendered 10 hits and nine runs on Sunday, left Busch Stadium somewhat in awe of how the Cardinals knocked him around.
“I’ve never had a game in my career where six different pitches are getting hit hard,” said Bassitt, a 15-game winner with the Mets in 2022. “I tip my hat to that lineup. It’s a great lineup.”
Bassitt found that out right away when Donovan homered on his first pitch and Alec Burleson hit an opposite-field homer two pitches later. Then, just when it seemed like the Toronto righty might escape the first, Gorman smashed a curveball into the right-center-field bleachers. It was, Marmol said, more of what the Cardinals have seen from Gorman since he worked all offseason to better address his weaknesses at the top of the strike zone.
“He was tasked with making some changes, and immediately in spring you could see that we had a different player mechanically and with his overall personality,” Marmol said. “There was some calmness and confidence to what he was doing.”
Gorman smashed 14 home runs as a rookie, but he was anything but confident late last season when he fell out of the regular rotation and even got sent back to Triple-A Memphis for a stretch. It was at that point that Gorman knew he had to address the holes in his swing if he was ever going to make it at the big league level.
“I mean, it sucked [going through his late-season swoon], but I knew what I needed to do in order to be here, and I went into the offseason hungry to get there,” he said.
Gorman said he is living proof that not all development with young players is linear and, at times, there will be bumps in the road along his journey.
“Everyone feels they’re ready for the big leagues, and once you get here you think you belong, but once you get here it’s a chess match and a game of adjustments,” he added. “You’ve got to make adjustments quick and realize what pitchers are trying to do. That’ll continue all year for me.”