Tuivailala, Gonzales up; DeJong optioned; Peralta released

The St. Louis Cardinals completed the option of infielder Paul DeJong by calling up RHP Sam Tuivailala from Memphis to join the big league bullpen. LHP Marco Gonzales was also recalled to serve as the 26th man for today’s doubleheader and IF Jhonny Peralta has officially been given his release.

This will be Tuivailala’s third stint in the big leagues this season. He has a 3.27 ERA and 1.36 WHIP over 11 innings out of the St. Louis bullpen. Down in Memphis he holds a 1.65 ERA and 0.67 WHIP over 16 innings.

DeJong was optioned on Sunday, but the moves were not announced until the corresponding move was decided. DeJong hit .244/.244/.390 over 12 games while up and filling in for the injured Kolten Wong. Wong returned on Friday and DeJong has yet to play since, so he will be sent to Memphis where he can get playing time. After starting out well, DeJong struggled lately, batting just .154 over his final 7 games.

The move for Tuivailala returns to the Cardinals to 13 pitchers on their 25 man roster, which John Mozeliak told the UCB Bloggers this weekend is the preference of Mike Matheny and his coaching staff.

Gonzales is also called up to serve as the 26th man for today’s doubleheader and he is scheduled to start the night half of the doubleheader against the Milwaukee Brewers. This will be his first time in the Major Leagues since 2015. After missing all of last year with Tommy John, Gonzales has a 2.97 ERA in six minor league starts this season.

And finally, the Cardinals have officially given Peralta his unconditional release after designating him for assignment on Friday. The move was not unexpected, but the Cardinals likely placed him on waivers to see if they could avoid paying the remainder of Peralta’s $10 million salary, but after he went unclaimed went ahead and released him.

Cardinals activate Wong, DFA Peralta

During their press conference this afternoon, the Cardinals confirmed that they have activated second baseman Kolten Wong from the disabled list and designed infielder Jhonny Peralta for assignment.

Wong, 26, had been on the 10 day DL with a left elbow injury. He went 1-for-9 with a solo home run in his rehab stint with Peoria.

He returns to the Cardinals lineup batting .278/.378/.414 on the season. Since John Mozeliak’s intervention upon return from a sweep in the Bronx on April 19th, Wong is batting .311/.408/.462 with 9 doubles, 2 triples, and a home run in 31 games and outside of Tommy Pham may be the team’s best hitter.

On the other side of the move, Peralta was designated for assignment by the Cardinals in a move that was long overdue. I’ve argued that the organization should have let him go at the end of last season, either by trade or release, but had come around in recent days on his future with the Cardinals.

Mainly that, in limited playing time since his return from the disabled list, Peralta is batting .276/.323/.276. Since that same date, May 19th, Jedd Gyorko is batting .262/.292/.377 and Paul DeJong is hitting .244/.244/.390. And I ultimately refused to consider DeJong a worthwhile replacement when he has yet to be walked in his MLB career.

Now Peralta may not have his power back yet nor driven in a run yet this year, but he demonstrated he can still hit the ball when he plays, something he struggled with to start the season. And given enough opportunities, those RBI will come and so will that power.

I don’t believe he is done, as he hit .284/.337/.403 over the final two months of the season last year. He struggled early last season, but hand, wrist, and hip injuries are always difficult to work your way back from.

As a career .245/.302/.428 hitter, the odds are stacked against Gyorko to continue to perform at the level he has started the season at. It’s a big bet on him and Mozeliak has also tied himself to acquiring a third baseman if he loses on that bet.

I just hope it’s the right one because if Gyorko goes ice cold, it has the potential to look really bad.

Five things about the Giants Series

The St. Louis Cardinals took the finale of a three game set against the San Francisco Giants over the weekend. They remain second place in the NL Central at 22-19, 1.5 games behind the division leading Milwaukee Brewers and half a game ahead of the defending division champion Chicago Cubs.

The Cardinals now head to Los Angeles for a three game series as they head west for the week. The Dodgers (26-19) are 6-4 over their last ten and coming off a series against the Marlins that saw them win three of four.

A lack of production from the top

It doesn’t seem to matter who the Cardinals plug into the top-3 spots in the lineup this season, they struggle to get consistent production from them. In the Giants series the top-3 spots in the lineup went a combined 6-for-38 (.158) and it’s not unique to this series.

The top-3 spots in the Cardinals lineup are hitting .210 on the season. The only team worse has been Oakland, whose first three hitters are batting .194.

And why I say it doesn’t seem to matter who hits in that top-3? Let’s look at the three guys who have spent the most time in the #2 spot of the lineup. Aledmys Diaz is batting .194 in the #2 spot, .371 elsewhere. Tommy Pham is batting .105 in the #2 spot, .406 elsewhere. Randal Grichuk is batting .105 in the #2 spot, .258 elsewhere. Kolten Wong hit .188 in the leadoff spot while Fowler was out, has hit .315 elsewhere.

A bigger problem for the Cardinals is that this seems to have become a consistent thing. In 2016, the top three in the Cardinals’ lineup hit a combined .258 which ranked 25th. In fact, the Cardinals top-3 hitters haven’t ranked in the top half of the league in batting average since 2013, where they hit .298 and were ranked second. They went to the World Series that year.

The plus so far is that the back two-thirds of the lineup are carrying the team. The Cardinals four through nine hitters are batting a combined .288 on the season, best in baseball.

Martinez dominates

On Saturday, Carlos Martinez allowed just two hits and a walk over 9 innings of work and came away with a no-decision as the game remained tied at 0-0 when he exited the game. Martinez’s game score of 87 was the fourth best scored game this season and the best scored game where the starting pitcher took a loss.

You have to go back to June of 2015 where Chris Sale struck out 14 batters over 8 innings for a score of 92 in a 2-1 loss to find the last time a pitcher with a score of 86 or higher lost a game.

If I’m counting right, teams whose starting pitcher turned in a game score of 86 or higher had won their last 85 games.

And so did the rest of the starters

In addition to Martinez’s nine shutout innings, the Cardinals’ rotation was on it this weekend.

Michael Wacha was returning to the rotation after being skipped the last time through the rotation to give him added rest in the hopes it would help him avoid a recurrence of his stress injury later this season. He showed that he did not miss a beat, throwing 6 shutout innings on 4 hits and 3 walks.

For Adam Wainwright, it was important for him to come out and back up the 7 shutout innings he threw against the Cubs and turn in another quality start. And he did that, allowing 1 earned run over 6.1 innings of work.

Peralta returns

Jhonny Peralta returned to the starting lineup on Sunday night for the first time since rejoining the club on Friday. And since then, he has reached base five times in six plate appearances. Already a large improvement over his first two weeks of the season where he reached base five times in 27 plate appearances. He had pinch hits on Friday and Saturday before going 2-for-3 with a walk on Sunday.

Gonzales putting himself back on the map

Not a big league thing, but Marco Gonzales made his third start returning from Tommy John surgery over the weekend. He threw 6.1 scoreless innings of work for Memphis, lowering his ERA to 0.68. He has been dominant, allowing just 7 hits and 2 walks over his 13.1 innings of work in two Triple-A starts for a 0.68 WHIP as well.

For a team whose Major League bullpen is a complete mess, having Gonzales and Tyler Lyons on the horizon could be helpful.

Bonus: Pham story

If you haven’t already, go check out Derrick Goold’s story on Tommy Pham and how he’s dealing with keratoconus. I’ve often seen Pham giving himself his vision test and wondering why he did it and whether it was connected to his eye condition. It’s a good read of some of the struggles he’s had to work through, which makes the talent he’s shown all the more impressive.

Column: How can the Cardinals best use Jhonny Peralta?

St. Louis Cardinals’ GM John Mozeliak has said that infielder Jhonny Peralta is expected to be activated this weekend as they play a three game set against the San Francisco Giants in St. Louis. The question then on everyone’s mind is how to use Peralta?

Peralta opened up the season penciled in as the starter at third base. It seems like the organization expected Jedd Gyorko to step in and take the job later in the season if he got hot and went on a power surge. However, Peralta struggled to open up the 2017 season and ended up on the disabled list after an adverse reaction to some cold medication.

In the mean time, Gyorko secured his hold on the everyday third base job. Through 37 games this season, Gyorko is hitting .330/.385/.607 with 7 home runs and has easily been the Cardinals’ most valuable position player. He’s even proving the doubters, like myself, wrong by continuing to play plus defense on the field.

There is also Greg Garcia on the roster who has hit .255/.367/.314 this season, but while Garcia is an on base machine, even last year Peralta provided more punch than that.

For his part, Peralta has admitted that he does not expect to come back as the starter at third base for the Cardinals. It seems like an obvious position for those of us who judge purely on performance, but it is a positive that he seemingly accepted what his opportunities are likely to look like going forward.

The benefit of the disabled list trip for Peralta was that he got an opportunity to take a rehab stint and hopefully find some of that long lost timing at the plate.

The answer to me for how you use Peralta is simple: You let him show you.

Be prepared, Peralta will likely draw a spot in the starting lineup a couple times over the first few days he’s up. I support this because you need to figure out what you have out of him sooner rather than later.

So to start, Peralta will most likely take most of the third base time away from Garcia and he will likely get some time at shortstop to spell Aledmys Diaz. I think, depending on how things shake out in the outfield, you could see him get some playing time in left field or even first base. Those are all positions he has played before in the Majors.

As I wrote last season, I don’t think his 2016 results were representative of the kind of player Peralta can be going forward. He had a hand injury last year and those are notorious for messing up swings and timing. It’s one of those situations where you’re “healed” but you aren’t actually back to 100%.

I still believe Peralta can be an average to slightly above average offensive threat. I don’t think we’ll see 2014 Peralta again, who hit .263/.336/.443 with 21 home runs, but I don’t think a Peralta who can hit .260/.330/.400 who can hit you 10+ home runs over the rest of the season is completely out of reach.

If you play him and he hits, you keep giving him opportunities. If he doesn’t hit, you limit his appearances.

The question at that point becomes what Mozeliak really meant when he said earlier this year that the organization was applying a short leash to Peralta. How long will they give him to find traction? If he can’t, will they release him? I think it’s a possibility, especially as Gyorko and Garcia continue to demonstrate that he may not be needed. And everyday that goes by, it gets cheaper to cut him.

I still believe in Jhonny Peralta, just not right now

Since returning from his DL stint on August 2nd, Jhonny Peralta has hit .257/.307/.371 with 2 home runs and 11 RBI. He has appeared in 42 games and started 37 of them. But those numbers are carried by a better August and have dropped in September, where he is hitting .213 and has just four extra base hits in 54 plate appearances.

I agree with a lot of Cardinals fans: It’s time to sit Jhonny Peralta.

With a 74 OPS+ in September, only Carson Kelly has hit worse on the Cardinals this month.

I know that Peralta has provided the team a great value for the past two years, but it’s time to let someone else play. Especially when you have the kind of depth, combined with hot players available right now. Jedd Gyorko is a guy who Matheny has been trying to find ways to fit into the lineup, he has 20 home runs in the second half, third most in baseball.

But where I depart with many fans is that I still think Peralta has things to contribute.

I understand why people look at Peralta’s three seasons with the Cardinals and see a 117 OPS+ in 2014, a 103 OPS+ in 2015, and currently a 79 OPS+ in an injury abbreviated 2016 and are clammoring that the 34 year old Peralta is declining. And he very well might be, but I’d also like to point out that Peralta has never been a model of consistency at any point in his career.

Since 2005, when he became a full time player in the Majors (12 seasons), he has five seasons where he has put up a 110 OPS+ or higher and now likely four seasons where he’s had a 90 OPS+ or lower. Since he started playing everyday, he has been a career 103 OPS+ player. And even that has been carried by a few very strong seasons.

Just a few years ago, Peralta posted a 122 OPS+ in 2011 and then followed that up with an 84 OPS+ in 2012 at age 30. Was he declining then too? History shows us no, as he went on to post a 121 OPS+ in 2013, and then became a Cardinal.

Even defensively he’s not ever been a defensive whiz. No matter what metric you used to consider Peralta’s defense, he was lightyears better in 2014 than he had ever been before in his career. UZR/150 likes his 2011 and 2012 season at shortstop, but when it comes to defensive runs saved, Peralta saved +17 runs in 2014. He was a career -16 defensive runs saved before that season. That’s how much of an abberation 2014 was for Peralta defensively, that he made up for a career of questionable defense in one season.

I think expecting him to be 2014 Peralta, even in 2015 was unlikely. But I feel like his numbers bounce around enough that he can bounce back. But that’s not the only reason I feel like he can once again become, at least an average hitter for this club.

He and Yadier Molina had the same surgery, and I still feel like it took until this summer before he was completely back to normal. There’s a difference between “healed” and “healthy.” I think Peralta is still somewhere in between right now. That doesn’t do anything for the team right now though.

Going into the offseason, I think we will get a much better Jhonny Peralta next year than we have this year, but with what the Cardinals have going on in the infield right now, if you can unload him, I think you have to. And I think that’s going to be the best thing for the team.

Shortstop situation shouldn’t worry Cards

After the 2015 season saw five of the St. Louis Cardinals’ nine Opening Day starters spend significant time on the disabled list, the team got bad news again. Jhonny Peralta, injured over the weekend, is expected to miss two to three months with a torn tendon in his left thumb. And so begins the team’s 2016 disabled list adventures.

Cardinals’ GM John Mozeliak discussed that the Cardinals want to evaluate their internal options before making a decision whether to pursue players outside of the organization. Of course, the media still loves a good trade rumor story, so they have already begun discussing all of the potential options available or potentially available. I doubt that will happen though.

Losing Peralta hurts. Lets not lie. Peralta was one of the players that carried the offense in the first half of 2015 while Matt Holliday was on the disabled list and Matt Carpenter was slumping.

In Peralta’s stead, Jedd Gyorko will likely get the first crack at this year’s starting shortstop job. Gyorko, 27, hit .262 with 14 home runs in 82 games last season for the Padres after he spent a three week stint in the minors in June. While he’s only played 220 professional innings at shortstop, having played mostly second and third bases, he did play shortstop in college. Mike Matheny even spoke today about how much they like Gyorko’s glove and arm, which leads one ot believe that range will be the issue.

There is also Greg Garcia, who was already expected to be Peralta’s primary backup during the season. The 26-year-old Garcia has never been a top prospect or viewed as capable of sticking at shortstop at the Major League level. However, through the minors, he has been one of those players who has flown under the radar and yet still produced at every level. Can I use the term “sneaky good?”

He hit .240 with 2 home runs for the big league club and did that with a 97 OPS+. That’s good for just shy of league average offensively. Defensively, he may not be the right guy, but he should be good enough to spell your starter.

The most interesting situation of all might be that of Aledmys Diaz. Diaz was signed out of Cuba before the 2014 season when he hadn’t played pro baseball for almost two years. His first season in the U.S. was marred by injury as he struggled to stay on the field. But his 2015 season ended up showing the reason the Cardinals were interested. And he could have been had by any team in baseball too.

In July, the Cardinals needed a 40 man roster spot, so they designated Diaz for assignment. The move took him off the 40 man roster, but it also placed him on waivers. The Cardinals took a chance that with $5 million remaining on his deal, that nobody would assume the risk. They were right. He passed through waivers and stayed with the Cardinals.

Since July 1, 2015, Diaz hit .322/.387/.570 with 12 home runs over 69 games between Double-A Springfield, Triple-A Memphis, and the Arizona Fall League. Add to that some glowing reviews of his defensive abilities, and I think you have the guy that the Cardinals would like to have playing shortstop in Peralta’s stead.

Diaz is the most immediate to benefit from Peralta’s absense in spring training. While he was positioned to be an early cut from Major League camp with Peralta there, all of those at bats open up with Peralta gone. Given his salary and option situation, Diaz may get a legitimate opportunity to take this job.

It’s the option sitation that changed my mind too. When the injury first happened, I didn’t expect that Diaz would see substantial playing time. Maybe he’d get an opportunity to make the team out of camp, but he wouldn’t see regular starting time unless he truly forced the organization’s hand with his performance.

Having been on the club’s 40 man roster since he signed his contract, the Cardinals have already exercised two option years to keep him in the minors. If they were to send him down to the minors this year, it would be his third and then he would have to make the big league club next year.

So as I see it stacking up, I don’t think there will be a better opportunity for the Cardinals to see what Aledmys Diaz has then right now. So why not see what he has?

I also believe that the Cardinals are very capable of navigating a few months without Jhonny Peralta without negatively impacting the team’s playoff chances. But I wish they didn’t have to.