St. Louis Cardinal OF Jon Jay has been asked only to fill-in for injured starters during his rookie year, but he's doing his best to break into one of the best outfields in the National League. Called up from Triple-A Memphis on July 3rd to replace the DL-bound Ryan Ludwick, Jay has been a revelation. Since then his exciting play has been a much needed catalyst for the club's disappointing offense.
The 25 year old product of the University of Miami made his first big league appearance earlier this season, and performed well both as a starter and as a pinch-hitter. He is currently amidst a NL-best 11-game hit streak; and is batting .377 for the season in 34 games. But in this latest 8 games stretch with St. Louis, Jay has really turned it on - hitting at an even .500 clip with 2 HR, 9 RBI and has scored 12 times for a slugging percentage of .594. Unbelievably, he has either scored or drove in a run in 10 of the 24 innings the Cardinals have scored since he joined the big league club. That's a direct effect in 41.7% of all Cardinal rallies.
Timely hitting is one thing, but Jay has also shown a high-level of baseball smarts. The best example is the third inning of MLB.com post-game wrap" target="_blank">Sunday's Cardinals game against Houston . Astros starter Wandy Rodriguez cruised through the St. Louis line-up, retiring the first 10 batters and looking quite relaxed pitching from his wind-up. With St. Louis down 2-0 and needing to shake things up, Jay noticed the Houston infielders playing back and laid down a bunt for a hit (the first such hit of season for the team). Rodriguez now had to pitch from the stretch, and St. Louis pounced. An Albert Pujols single and a Matt Holiday 3-run homer gave the Cardinals all they would need to go into the All-Star break on a needed high note.
Jay's awareness of the situation and ability to make things happen did not get by St. Louis manager Tony LaRussa. As reported by Joe Strauss in Monday's St. Louis Post-Dispatch, LaRussa remarked about Jay, "He does what the situation demands. He's aggressive and he's intelligent. That's a good combination for any player. He's been very impressive."
Ironically, those comments may spell the end of reserve OF Randy Winn with the Redbirds. The Cardinals picked up Winn following his release by the Yankees, and Jay - performing quite well in his initial stint in the majors - was sent down to make room. LaRussa explained that first demotion as an opportunity for Jay to continue to play every day. But he and the organization did admit that Jay had "impressed". While providing a jump to the ball-club initially, Winn is now suffering through a 2-27 slump, giving the organization little justification in keeping him over the impressive Jay.
This is a wonderful story, but let's not forget our hero has only 34 big league games under his belt. And while it's clear Jay has brought electricity to an unexpectedly staid line-up, his brief time with St. Louis has protected him from the attention of opposing scouts and coaches. Word has certainly gotten out, and adjustments will be made in the approach to Jay. The key is his adjustments to those changes. Other Cardinal rookie outfielders have hit 'The Show' with a splash. But will Jay sustain the the glory like former MVP and two-time batting champ Willie McGee , or will the holes in his swing be exploited like Rick Ankiel's .
Questions like those have Jay's future MLB career in a tremendously wonderful state of flux. He has enjoyed regular playing time due to starting RF Ryan Ludwick being on the DL with a calf injury . Ludwick is expected to return soon, and he is a proven player of impact - both with the bat and the glove. Starting the last two games for hobbled CF Colby Rasmus (mild hamstring strain), Jay showed enough aplomb with the glove to be the back-up In center the team has been looking for since spring training. But Rasmus is a budding superstar with all the talents of Jay - and more. Matt Holliday in left field already is a superstar, and recently signed the largest contract in franchise history, and he is earning it. So despite all that Jay brings to the line-up, there is no room left at the inn.
But there are bright signs for his future. His production, of course. and the fact he bats from the left side - something desired by the ball-club since spring training. LaRussa is renown for giving plenty of playing time to his reserves (often to the chagrin of Redbird fans), therefore Jay has a real possibility of playing a valuable role on a World Series team. Or there is the opportunities of the upcoming trade deadline. Injuries to starting pitchers Brad Penny and Kyle Lohse make the Cardinals buyers, and Jay's play - and rookie contract - make him a valuable pawn in the upcoming chess game. He just might find himself a starting outfielder on some lesser big league team by August 1st.
That's not something Cardinal Nation wants nor wishes to hear. But no matter what happens, Jay is taking the right approach. "I know it's a game. I've got to have fun, fun with a reason." he told the Post-Dispatch, "I'm more of a happy-go-lucky guy. I'm not going to let things bother me. I'm not going to get too high and not going to get too low. I'm just playing the game."
So far in 2010, Jon Jay is just playing the game - the right way, the Cardinal way. And he's not the only one having fun. Watching him, Cardinal Nation is having a blast.