In a much speculated move, the St. Louis Cardinals announced that struggling utility player Chris Duncan would be optioned to Triple-A Memphis in favor of a red-hot slugger Joe Mather. This decision paid untold benefits in Mather's first game in the big leagues.
Although he was only 1-4, Mather had what proved to be the game-winning RBI, as well as a ridiculous web gem in the outfield. Not only did it show Cardinal faith that Mather is a legit offensive player, but his defense is surely better than that of Duncan.
As the color commentators for the Cardinals pointed out tonight, Mather may be the second-best base stealer on the team right now behind Brian Barton. This is something the husky Duncan would not have been able to do: help manufacture runs through his speed on the base paths.
Although I was not as impressed with Mather's debut as say, Cincinnati fans were with Jay Bruce, I can still see a lot of potential in the 25-year-old outfielder.
He plays the game with passion, noted by his aggressive hustle plays, and enjoys what he is doing. It may have been a debut smile, but Mather was laughing on numerous occasions throughout the game, showing that he was having a good time out on the field.
I was quite impressed with manager Tony LaRussa's decision to hit Mather in the two-hole in his first career game, but it seemed to pay dividends for the kid. It was a wise move on the Hall-of-Fame manager's part, as he knew Mather would see a clear majority of hittable pitches with Albert Pujols behind him.
What I am concerned about, however, is how Duncan will take this stint in Memphis. I am hoping that he is a strong-willed individual who is willing to accept his shortcomings so far this season, and be humble enough to fix them in the minors. Duncan has simply been the odd man out in the outfield this season, something harped on as perhaps not his fault.
Dan McLaughlin, a Cardinals' TV personality, spoke to the fact that Duncan is not a true outfielder, he belongs at first base. The problem with this is obvious: Pujols inhabits that slot in the Cardinals lineup. "Pujols is the Stan Musial of our generation for the Cardinals," McLaughlin said, "He will be playing at first base until he decides his career is over."
Mather's night was almost ruined by a very poor outing by Ryan Franklin. After giving up a run last night, Franklin gave up three runs in the top of the ninth on a bases-clearing double against Jason Michaels.
Lo and behold, the Cardinals preserved and won their third game in a row to stay 1.5 games out of the NL Central lead.