BIRD BYTES, 3-16 

Five fungoes on the Cardinals: 

1-Put this in the overstuffed “It’s Only Spring Training!” file. But  it would be nice to see Cards shortstop Paul DeJong get something going before the start of the regular season. DeJong is 2 for 23 with 10 strikeouts in Grapefruit League action. That’s an .087 batting average. Moreover, DeJong has whiffed six times in his most recent 13 at-bats. 

Not to worry, says manager Mike Shildt: “Spring training, not a high number of at-bats, seeing the ball really well, takes are good, just finishing up his timing with his swing. I have a lot of confidence Paul is going to be more than ready to go when the season goes and I’ve got zero concerns about Paul DeJong offensively. He’s going to be just fine, his swing is going to be right there. He’s getting very close, just a matter of a few more at-bats, seeing some pitching, but Paul’s going to be in great shape.” 

When the real baseball commences on April 1, start keeping an eye on DeJong’s two-strike hitting in 2021. When DeJong got into a two-strike count last season it ended with a strikeout 58% of the time. That was one of the worst percentages in the majors in ‘20. And DeJong’s career strikeout rate on two-strike counts is 48 percent. Since 2017 the MLB-wide rate for strikeouts on two-strike counts is just under 42%. 

2–Leadoff man Tommy Edman will be a key part of the STL offense in 2021, and in that context, spring training or not, it’s always good to see a hitter have some success before leaving Florida. In his first 22 plate appearances in the Grapefruit, Edman is batting .333 with a .364 OBP and .429 slug. But … only one walk and seven strikeouts. 

3–Pleasant pitching surprises — for me, anyway: Tommy Parsons, Jake Woodford, Kodi Whitley. Though, come to think of it, Whitley isn’t much of a surprise. He demonstrated knockout power with a 29.4% strikeout ratre in his 4.2 innings with the Cardinals last season. 

4–Edmundo Sosa, who may or may not be a bench piece for the Cardinals in 2021: only 1 for 11 so far. 

5-Former Cardinals’ lefty Austin Gomber is making quite an impression in Rockies’ camp. In three starts he’s given up five hits and a run in 7 IP, with two walks and eight strikeouts. 

Wrote Jim Bowden at The Athletic: “Gomber has mastered the four-seam fastball at the top of the zone — opponents hit just .143 against the pitch. He misses barrels consistently as shown by his 96th percentile ranking in that category. He’s had a very impressive spring, and all eyes will be on him this season because of the trade.” 

Bowden presented this quote from Rockies manager Bud Black: “Austin has a four-pitch mix, has confidence and conviction in each (pitch), and pitches with an up-tempo, aggressive mindset.”

Tracking the NL Central: 

The FanDuel Sportsbook provided a team-by-team forecast for 2020, and broke it down from multiple vantage points. Shall we take a look? Yes.

CARDINALS

USA Today: 90-72

PECOTA: 80-82

Clay Davenport: 80-82

FanDuel Sportsbook Win Total: 86

Odds to Win the NL Central: -105

BREWERS

USA Today: 83-79

PECOTA: 90-72

Clay Davenport: 80-82

FanDuel Sportsbook Win Total: 82

Odds to Win the NL Central: +340

CUBS

USA Today: 82-80

PECOTA: 85-77

Clay Davenport: 80-82

FanDuel Sportsbook Win Total: 78.5

Odds to Win the NL Central: +500

REDS

USA Today: 79-83

PECOTA: 79-83

Clay Davenport: 82-80

FanDuel Sportsbook Win Total: 81.5

Odds to Win the NL Central: +330

PIRATES 

USA Today: 57-105

PECOTA: 62-100

Clay Davenport: 63-99

FanDuel Sportsbook Win Total: 58.5

Odds to Win the NL Central: +10000

Let’s follow that up with another tour of the NL Central: 

BREWERS: Outfielder Lorenzo Cain (quadriceps) hasn’t played in any exhibition games but is slated to make make his  spring-training debut Saturday against the Reds. “I’ll do everything possible to get ready (for the season),” Cain recently told reporters. “I plan on being on the field opening day,” … Cain, who turns 35 next month, opted out of the 2020 season after playing in five games. And in 2019 Cain slumped to a .697 OPS that was his worst in a season since 2013 … St. Louisan Devin Williams, the Crew’s dominant RH reliever, said he expects to be ready for opening day. He’s completing rehab of a late-season shoulder strain that prevented him from pitching in Milwaukee’s wild-card series against the Dodgers. Williams is back to throwing bullpen sessions and could make his Cactus League next week. Williams worked hard this past offseason, rehabbing his shoulder several times each week. “It’s feeling good now,” he said. Williams, 26, was named NL Reliever of the Year for 2020 after striking out 53 percent of batters faced (and an ERA of 0.33) in 27 innings. Opponents went 2 for 62 with 41 strikeouts against Williams’ killer changeup … speaking of changeups: lefty closer Josh Hader is working on one this spring; it would be a wicked addition to his fastball and slider arsenal … the Brewers may go with six starting pitchers for stretches this season. Freddy Peralta is making his bid for a spot; he struck out 10 in his first 3.2 innings of Cactus League ball. The Brewers are set at the front of their rotation with Brandon Woodruff and Corbin Burnes, and other rotation candidates include Josh Lindblom, Adrian Houser, Brett Anderson, Peralta, Eric Lauer and non-roster invitee Jordan Zimmermann.

 

REDS: I have to follow up on an item from Monday’s “Bits” column here at scoops: the potential position change for Reds third baseman Eugenio Suarez. Well, it looks like it’s happening. Reds manager David Bell says he will start Suarez at SS for Tuesday’s Cactis League game against the Rockies. This wasn’t the plan coming into spring training but the Reds need a shortstop, and Suarez has experience there. He’s played 183 MLB games at short — including 96 games in 2015 — but has logged only 24 innings there over the last five seasons. Suarez reported to camp 15 pounds lighter and impressed Bell and the coaches with his quicker movement and improved range. Suarez has been working at SS this spring with infield coaches Freddie Benavides and Delino Deshields.  

 

“I do think it did have something to do with how he came into camp just lighter and in really good shape,” Bell told reporters.  “That’s when it was first considered. Over the course of the last three weeks, he’s gradually started working a little bit more on the back fields and I’ve seen him a few times. I’ve had conversations with him, feeling out the situation and he was open to it. In some ways, I think he’s excited about the possibility because he’s played there before. It’s an original home for him,” … if Suarez sticks at shortstop, the Reds presumably will move Mike Moustakas to third base (his true position) and give impressive rookie prospect Jonathan India a chance to win the second-base job … after undergoing shoulder surgery to remove loose cartilage before 2020 spring training, Suarez had a down year offensively last season. But in 2018-2019 he averaged 42 homers, 104 RBIs and slugged .550. 

 

The Reds’ rotation is hurting. As we mentioned Monday, Sonny Gray remains down with back spasms; now it appears he could be out through the first two weeks of the season. Gray will go on the IL to wait it out … at least Wade Miley is OK; he recovered quickly from a hamstring issue and is scheduled to pitch today (Tuesday) … Tejay Antone, who has a nasty slider, was competing for a rotation slot but had to leave Sunday’s game with a groin strain … assuming that Gray won’t be ready by the Reds’ season-opener vs. the Cardinals in April 1, the Cincinnati rotation is looking like this: Luis Castillo, Tyler Mahle, Michael Lorenzen, Miley and  Jeff Hoffman. That, according to our friend C. Trent Rosecrans of the Athletic … the availability of two other Reds is in doubt for that April 1 game against the Cards: outfielder Shogo Akiyama (hamstring)  and first basema Joey Votto (Covid-19.) 

CUBS: The North Siders have a pitch-to-contact rotation set up for 2020. The only possible exception is the inexperienced Adbert Alzolay, who has a 29% strikeout rate in 21 MLB innings. (He could be in the rotation, or used as a “length” reliever.) Here are the other career strikeout rates for other Cubs starters: Kyle Hendricks (21%), Jacke Arrieta (21.5%), Zach Davies (17%), Trevor Williams (18%), Alec Mills (23%.)  Obviously, the starters will need the assistance of a nimble defense — and that’s been the goal of David Ross since he became the Cubs’ manager after the 2019 season. The Cubs were horrid defensively in ‘19, but Ross and his coaches stressed better positioning and fundamentals and cleaned up the mess last year. The 2020 Cubs ranked sixth in MLB with 23 defensive runs saved and had the second-lowest number of errors in the NL. Seven Cubs were Gold Glove finalists in 2020, and two came away with the award: shortstop Javy Baez and first baseman Anthony Rizzo.  ‘‘It’s something that I’m gonna get spoiled by,’’ said  Williams, who came over from the Pirates. “I’m looking forward to being spoiled by that, and I’m just looking forward to seeing what everybody can bring to the field every day. But it’s something that is exciting baseball to watch.” 

PIRATES: Do the Bucs have a closer? And if so, who’s the guy? “No idea,” manager Derek Shelton said recently. “We have a guy who we know can go to the back end and do it in Richie (Rodríguez), who did it last year, so I’m really not thinking about it.”  Rodriguez, 31, has been a solid reliever during his career. But he hasn’t done much closing, with only five saves in 162 MLB appearances. Rodriguez led the Pirates with four saves last season. An open competition at the start of camp has lost one candidate: young RH Blake Cederline, who can reach 100 mph on the radar, strained an ulnar collateral ligament and was placed on the 60-day IL. Surgery is possible. That leaves Rodriguez, David Bednar, Michael Feliz, Edgar Santana and Kyle Crick. Including Rodriguez, the group of contenders has only six career MLB saves. GM Ben Cherington shopped for a more established closer during the offseason but didn’t come up with a solution. Earlier this month the Pirates acquired Duane Underwood Jr. from the Cubs but plan to use him as a middle reliever. 

AS OTHERS SEE US: 

* Eno Sarris, baseball analyst for The Athletic, chose Cardinals’ rookie Dylan Carlson as one of three breakout candidates from a pool of young outfielders. Sarris pointed to a positive sign from Carlson’s 35-game MLB debut last season. Early on, Carlson chased too many pitches out of the strike zone. And then he adjusted.  

“As Carlson reached less (for pitches out of the zone)  over the course of the season, his production improved. And of course it would look even better if you included his good postseason run. The scouting reports look to be true — he has above-average power to all fields, a good eye at the plate, the ability to make contact at least an average rate, above-average defense and speed. At the worst, he should put those things together and be an average real-life player that can hit .250 with 20 homers and 10 steals. But, when you have this many tools, there’s always the chance they come together and produce a much better outcome than that.” 

* Was Mizzou treated fairly by the NCAA Selection Committee? The Washington Post doesn’t think so. 

“SNUB: Missouri is a No. 9 seed,” the Post grumbled. “High-end victories matter, until they don’t. Missouri collected seven Quadrant 1 victories, one of only 13 teams with at least that many. The other 12 programs all were handed a No. 5 seed or better. Missouri got dumped into an 8-9 game against former Big Eight/Big 12 rival Oklahoma, with the winner almost certain to play Gonzaga in the round of 32. Good luck with that, Mizzou.” 

Thanks for reading … 

-Bernie 

Hey, you! Please check out Bernie’s sports-talk show on 590-AM The Fan, KFNS. It airs Monday through Thursday from 3-6 p.m. and Friday from 4-6 p.m. You can listen live online and download the Bernie Show podcast at 590thefan.com  … the 590 app works great and is available in your preferred app store.