Who’s on First for the St. Louis Cardinals?

photo: Jose Martinez and Matt Carpenter (Jeff Curry/USA TODAY Sports)

The St. Louis Cardinals’ unsettled situation between two positions – first base and third base – among three players – Matt Carpenter, Jose Martinez and Jedd Gyorko – received some definition following Thursday’s Opening Day loss in New York.

Third base coach Jose Oquendo disclosed the following about Martinez at first base to Rick Hummel of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch:

“He’s our everyday guy,” said Oquendo. “Once in a while, he’s going to get rest and we’ll use ‘Carp’ out there (at first base), But, for the most part, it looks like Martinez is going to be there every day.”

Jose Martinez (Steve Mitchell/USA TODAY Sports)

Apparent implications of the above include Carpenter being at least a semi-regular at third, with Gyorko taking a secondary role. Even though the latter is a more accomplished second baseman as well, the Cardinals have continued to have Carpenter also see action at second – another potential relief valve for the logjam. Of course, that would be at the expense of playing time for Kolten Wong.

A possible conclusion from this scenario would have Martinez and Carpenter playing daily, with Gyorko much less and Wong somewhere in the middle.

On the defensive ramifications of these decisions, Oquendo acknowledged Martinez still has work to do. On Thursday, the first baseman had three hits and drove in two, but also committed a throwing error.

“Yes, he needs to improve a little more on his range,” Oquendo told Hummel. “He’s a big guy and he’s had some major surgery on his knee, so I don’t how much that limits his push. But it doesn’t affect the hitting.”

Oquendo, asked how good Martinez could be at first base, answered, “Average. But he’s a big ‘plus’ hitter.”

Regarding third base, Hummel made the following assertion – one that may be considered fairly hollow since Carpenter had trouble at times making strong routine throws across the diamond last year.

Carpenter, who started two double plays at third base Thursday, is throwing better than he was earlier this spring and all of last year. If his shoulder and back hold up, Carpenter could be adequate at that position although he won’t be as good as Jedd Gyorko, who didn’t play Thursday.

Matt Carpenter (USA TODAY Sports Images)

As a reminder, the 32-year old Carpenter started just 16 games at the hot corner last season and played just six full games there. For reference, his 2017 games count at first base was 120.

Carpenter’s somewhat mysterious shoulder ailment last season was supposedly resolved by off-season rest, yet physical problems surfaced again, as his spring preparation was limited by a back injury.

The Mets broadcasting crew saw something else entirely in Carpenter’s play in the field on Thursday. (The following was my real-time Tweet, posted right after I heard the on-air comment, which I believe was made by former Cardinals Gold Glove first baseman Keith Hernandez.)

Mets broadcasters noting that Matt Carpenter “does not look 100%” at 3B and wondering when the time will come that he has to play 1B exclusively.


Obviously, the situation will bear watching, but installing Martinez and Carpenter as regulars on the corners would seem to be prioritizing offense over defense.

Oquendo’s role

On Friday at 101 Radio’s website, media personality Bernie Miklasz posted a column entitled, “Jose Oquendo is the Boss of Jose Oquendo, and that’s Awesome”. It focuses on the element of the Martinez story which had Oquendo, rather than Mike Matheny, making the playing time announcement, moves still unconfirmed by the manager.

Jose Oquendo (Steve Mitchell/USA TODAY Sports)

Miklasz also recapped the earlier series of events that led to Oquendo leaving the coaching staff after two decades but returning two years later, including noting that the manager and third base coach did not always see eye to eye.

Bernie paints this Martinez disclosure as an example that “Oquendo doesn’t give one cluck” – a phrase used repeatedly in the column.

There is no doubt whatsoever that “The Secret Weapon” is highly respected, can be very candid, and with opinions that carry considerable weight. Where I disconnect is in suggesting Oquendo is uncaring about his relationship with Matheny and even more importantly, implying indifference about the impact of his words and actions on the greater good of the team.

I have no reason to believe that Oquendo does not make the St. Louis Cardinals his top priority and that includes relationships with staff, players and the media.  I suspect this story did not unfold in a manner that the key individuals would view as ideal, but I would not make more of it than it warrants in the broader perspective of who is in charge of the team and the motives of those involved.

One thing seems above speculation and debate. After just one day and one game of a six-month, 162-game grind, the 2018 Cardinals are certainly not shaping up to be a boring crew.

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Brian Walton can be reached via email at brian@thecardinalnation.com. Follow Brian on Twitter.

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