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Cardinals notebook: For Gorman to grow into everyday fixture, he must get started vs. lefties

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Cardinals infielder Nolan Gorman hits an RBI single during the first inning of a game against the Brewers on Tuesday, June 21, 2022, in Milwaukee.

MILWAUKEE — For rookie Nolan Gorman to build beyond games like Tuesday’s and develop into an everyday power source the Cardinals believe he can be, he’ll need to improve against left-handed pitchers.

Of course, he’ll first need to start against them.

A peek at that process came Wednesday.

Fresh off his two-homer, four-hit and four-RBI game against Milwaukee, Gorman remained in the lineup Wednesday against Brewers lefty Eric Lauer. Lefties have had success against Lauer this season, and in his career, he does not have the dramatic splits or high strikeout rates that lead to facing a lineup chocked with right-handed batters. The timing was right, manager Oliver Marmol said, for Gorman to get the start — his first step toward more.

“No doubt about it — he needs to be able to be an everyday guy that plays against both sides,” Marmol said. “We’ll have to pick our spots to put our best lineup out there while also developing (him). There are some that make more sense than others. We’ll see what it looks like.”

In the minors, Gorman had significant gaps between his production against right-handed and left-handed pitchers. The 22-year-old, left-handed slugger batted .379 with an .828 slugging percentage and a 1.254 OPS in 87 at-bats against right-handed pitchers at Class AAA this season. His average against lefties was .174 with a .655 OPS in 46 at-bats. Small sample sizes compared with full seasons, but his 2021 was similar with a .319 average and .977 OPS against right-hand pitchers and limited starts and a .167 average vs. lefties. All six of his hits vs. lefties at Class AA in 2021 were singles.

The Cardinals have kept Gorman mostly away from left-handed pitchers in the majors. He had five at-bats before Wednesday and went two for five in them. In his two chances against Lauer, Gorman struck out and flew out to center field.

In his career, Lauer had allowed left-handed batters a .817 OPS and .289 average vs. the right-handed batters’ .246 average and .724 OPS. This season, the split is more pronounced: right-handed hitters have a .225 average and .716 OPS vs. Lauer, while lefties have hit .263 with a .837 OPS.

Marmol cautioned about pulling too much from too few plate appearances (44) and also considering the type of left-handed hitters Lauer has faced. He mentioned Bryce Harper and Kyle Schwarber, and there are four at-bats by Juan Soto and three each by Jazz Chisholm Jr. and Eric Hosmer. It’s a telling group.

They’re everyday starters, left or right, regardless. Exactly like the Cardinals want Gorman to grow into being. To get him there, he’ll have to get started vs. lefties.

“It’s more approach driven, and that’s where more opportunity helps that,” Marmol said. “This is not the level for it. So we’ll have to find that balance for sure. … It’s my comfort level of putting him in the lineup more often against left-handers. That’s what it will come down to.”

McFarland goes on COVID IL

Lefty reliever T.J. McFarland tested positive for COVID-19 and went on the 10-day injured list Wednesday. Through tracing, the Cardinals determined that McFarland did not have close contact indoors with other teammates, limiting the team’s exposure, the manager said. The Cardinals added right-hander Junior Fernandez to the active roster and he traveled to Milwaukee to join them.

The Cardinals have a replacement on hand for McFarland’s role, and they have been easing him into the spot over the past week. Rookie Zack Thompson, who got the win Tuesday for his 1½ scoreless innings, will handle middle relief from the left side. A starter in the minors, Thompson and the Cardinals are learning about how he recovers day to day from usage, and the young lefty has yet to pitch in back-to-back games in his pro career.

“He’ll get a taste of it here,” Marmol said.

Matz nears rehab assignment

Steven Matz (shoulder soreness) completed a second bullpen session and could start his rehab assignment with a minor-league affiliate as soon as next week. The lefty will throw one more bullpen session this weekend with major-league coaches present, and based on how he does and recovers from it, the club will schedule the first step of his return to the rotation through starts in the minors.

He’ll need several starts to build arm strength.

Matz has missed a month with the discomfort in his shoulder.

• Already on his rehab assignment, Jordan Hicks (forearm) needed 14 pitches to complete an inning Tuesday night for Class AAA Memphis. He will make at least one more rehab appearance before returning to the Cardinals — as a reliever. The Cardinals’ decision to shift him back to the bullpen means he won’t have to stretch his pitch count. Command will be key.

“Consistency of commanding his pitches,” Marmol said.

O’Neill, Dickerson updates

Tyler O’Neill returned to St. Louis to have his hamstring reevaluated and begin treatment. A scan taken of the injured left leg confirmed a Grade 1 minor tear, and the club is hopeful that O’Neill will be able to resume running and baseball activities within the 10 days he must spend on the injured list.

Corey Dickerson, three for seven (.429) in his first three rehab games, continues to feel discomfort in his left calf muscle when he begins a sprint, and that has limited his time in the outfield. The muscle’s health and strength has improved, Marmol said, and the last step for Dickerson before returning to the majors will be feeling comfortable getting back to full speed and playing the outfield.

Derrick Goold

@dgoold on Twitter

dgoold@post-dispatch.com

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