Wong earns No. 2 lineup spot after strong spring
CINCINNATI -- Kolten Wong not only played his way onto his first big league Opening Day roster, but his standout spring also made him manager Mike Matheny's first choice for a two-hole hitter.
Having auditioned several players in that spot during Grapefruit League play, Matheny settled on Wong while still remaining open to making changes based on matchups and who is hitting well. Wong certainly is the latter after finishing the spring with 18 hits in his last 38 at-bats. He led the team in hits, runs (10) and doubles (five) despite going hitless in his first 10 at-bats.
"What we've seen from Kolten this spring is a good, patient, very mature at-bat for a young player," Matheny said before Monday's season opener. "He's been disciplined in the zone. He's been taking good passes at the ball when he gets something that he likes. Everything is leading in the direction that he could be that sort of player.
"Whether he's that sort of player right now or for an extended period of time remains to be seen, but he fits there well for now. We'll continue to watch him and see how the lineup comes together. But we do have some other guys who can bat in that position, and we'll be always watching and figuring out what helps fit best."
While Wong's place in the batting order isn't permanent, his presence in the lineup is expected to be -- at least, for a while. This will be Wong's first sustained opportunity to start at second base for St. Louis, which traded away David Freese in November envisioning that Wong would be a part of the club's Opening Day infield.
With Mark Ellis on the disabled list through at least the first nine games of the Cardinals' season, Wong will get his chance to prove that last year's first impression -- a .153/.194/.169 slash line over 62 plate appearances -- should not be a lasting one. This time, he has told himself to relax and have fun.
"Going out there and knowing that I worked as hard as I possibly could during the offseason and during Spring Training, now it's my time to just go out and enjoy this experience," said Wong, ranked by MLB.com as the Cardinals' second-best prospect. "I just go out there and really try to put my best foot forward and do whatever I can. I'm just happy to be in the lineup. If it's second or ninth, I'm just excited to be starting. It's a crazy day for me."
He is one of six Cardinals experiencing Opening Day for the first time, even though five of them have already appeared in the World Series.
"Everyone always dreams of getting to do this," Wong said. "For me, it's a dream come true. I'm just excited for it to happen already. I definitely worked as hard as I could during the offseason hoping to get in this sort of situation. For it to happen, it really meant a lot to me."