CINCINNATI — The Cardinals, like other ball clubs, have oodles of measurements and data to determine every move, and that includes ones made before the game when choosing who and when to rest during a dogged stretch of games, so they don’t have to rely on the box scores.
Although, they would have seen the same message there.
Cardinals manager Oliver Marmol removed the middle of the order from Thursday’s getaway game, subtracting three All-Stars and two of last year’s MVP finalists from the offense all at once to get them a break. Paul Goldschmidt had spent the previous two days at designated hitter and done well, while teammates Nolan Arenado, 0-for-10 (six strikeouts), and Willson Contreras, 1-for-24, could not hide the fatigue in their swings.
The three players did not put on cleats Thursday, the manager said, as a sign they had the entire afternoon off.
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“They needed a day. They’ve been going hard; they’ve been going really hard,” Cardinals manager Oliver Marmol said. “There’s a reason why we’ve gained ground and won some games here as of late and gone on a little run. It’s because those guys have gone every day. They’re deserving of this day game — a reset and then get ready for Cleveland and Kansas City.”
The decision worked as the Cardinals got their cornerstones a day off Thursday and still won, 2-1, to split the series with Cincinnati.
But that’s the catch — the commitment to the day off regardless of results and not shifting it based on the previous day’s outcome or the player’s positive trends.
Schedule it. Set it. Stick to it.
“There are times when guys are on a roll and rather than a day off, I’ll figure out a way to DH him,” Marmol said. “But you want to stick to the patterns that makes sense in order to keep your body fresh. And with 19 in a row, it’s hard to do that.”
The Cardinals have internal measures they keep to monitor any signs of fatigue in players — a “fatigue tracker,” Marmol said, declining to share any of the proprietary details. This could be something as obvious as a change in workout routines, or signs as analytical as sprint speed on the bases, angles in the field, or exit velocity at the plate. The Reds challenged Contreras time and time again with elevated fastballs.
“When he’s rested,” Marmol said, “feel free to go up there.”
The manager added: “We can track fatigue pretty closely, and who is more fatigued, more than others, based on at-bats, on the bases, and defensive plays, and it’s all incorporated into our fatigue tracker. Figure out who needs rest, who doesn’t, and how to get them that rest based on matchups and what we have moving forward.”
“Load management” is the phrase used in the NBA, and it has been seeping its way into baseball for years — from sleep studies to changes even in how teams travel. The idea has shifted from getting the best player in 162 games to getting the best from top players in the 150 or so games they’re in. The Cardinals also look at the “prehab” aspect of rest — that is the preventative or proactive rest to avoid injury.
That three All-Stars had their break all come at once was a product of the schedule. Marmol explained that the players all wanted to be in the games for the Dodgers’ visit to St. Louis. The Reds had a left-hander starting the first game of the series, assuring the three right-handed batters would be in the lineup, and the starter Tuesday had reverse splits. Taking the early-start game Thursday made the most sense, all at once. And, in the midst of a 19-game, 19-day push, Marmol felt it wasn’t possible to push the middle of the order through next week’s unusual back-to-back off days.
“You can’t ride them till that, though. No chance,” Marmol said. “You start getting diminishing returns if you keep playing them anyway.”
Liberatore starts, rotation follows
Rookie lefty Matthew Liberatore is scheduled to start Friday’s series opener in Cleveland and push the rest of the rotation back a day, scoring an extra day off for all five. Liberatore had spent a few days available as a reliever this past week, including Tuesday in Cincinnati, and the Cardinals made the decision late Wednesday night that the bullpen had enough bulk to use Liberatore as a starter.
That moves Jack Flaherty to Saturday, Jordan Montgomery to Sunday, and it sets up Adam Wainwright to start Memorial Day afternoon at Busch Stadium against Kansas City.
Liberatore, 23, pitched one inning of relief Sunday, and he got the win in his only previous big-league start of the season. He struck out six in five scoreless innings vs. Milwaukee.
Feeding people in footsteps of history
Several Cardinals went Wednesday to a faith-based organization in Cincinnati to help serve food to people in need. Through Adam Wainwright’s Big League Impact charity, the Cardinals worked the food line at City Gospel Mission. Brendan Donovan said his role was to hand out burritos.
“I was serving jalapenos, black beans, corn — I had like six toppings to give out,” pitcher Jordan Montgomery said. “We had too many people to fit in the kitchen.”
The Cardinals helped the community on the site of Crosley Field, the Reds’ home ballpark from 1912-70. The Mission’s headquarters moved to the ballpark grounds in 2015.
Paul Goldschmidt, Nolan Arenado, Ryan Helsley, Montgomery, and Donovan were among the players who worked the food line. Wainwright and Lars Nootbaar worked the room. Donovan previously made a similar visit to a charity last season in Pittsburgh.
“Every road trip there’s an opportunity to serve,” Montgomery said.
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