ST. LOUIS (AP) – Kolten Wong enjoyed the level of commitment he was given from St. Louis when he signed a five-year, $25.5 million contract with the Cardinals before the 2016 season.
That commitment hasn’t wavered from St. Louis’ point of view, but a spring’s worth of frustrations boiled over last week for Wong when he said he’d rather be traded than be part of a platoon with Jedd Gyorko at second base.
Wong later clarified his comments and made it clear he wants to “win a World Series” no place other than with the Cardinals, but how St. Louis manager Mike Matheny uses the 26-year-old will be watched closely early this season.
“What I said was just emotion and being a competitor and wanting to go out there and be with the team every single day,” Wong said. “If that’s wrong of me, then so be it. But I’m going to go out there, and I want to win, and I think that me being out there … I’m going to play as hard as I can every single day.”
The left-handed hitting Wong didn’t start the Cardinals’ season opener, thanks to Chicago left-hander Jon Lester starting on the mound, but he did enter later in the game and walk in the ninth inning of St. Louis’ 4-3 win over the World Series champion Cubs.
It was just one game, but it highlighted how the Cardinals are trying to balance their desire for Wong to assert himself as the long-term answer at second base, while acknowledging how well Gyorko played last season.
“We’re not hiding from the fact that we want (Wong) to take a hold of that position, but you look at how people have played and you always want spring training to have some relevancy,” St. Louis general manager John Mozeliak said. “It’s not something where you just show up, go home and if you don’t do well, it’s a guarantee you’re going to get something.”
Both Matheny and Mozeliak talked before spring training about their high hopes this season for Wong, who hit only .240 in 361 at-bats last year while battling a shoulder injury. However, Wong’s struggles at the plate continued during the spring when he hit .192 in 58 at-bats.
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Gyorko didn’t fare much better in the spring, batting only .191 in 51 at-bats, but the right-handed hitter did hit 30 home runs in only 438 at-bats in his first season for St. Louis a year ago.
That capital has earned Gyorko a place in the St. Louis infield in some fashion for now even if that means it takes time from Wong.
Matheny met with Wong following last week’s comments, with the manager telling the second baseman to “go out there and be the guy that fights his way into the lineup every single day.”
It was the message Wong needed to hear.
“I think it comes down to who’s going to play better, who’s going to be playing better at the time, who is going to get the starts and I’m on board with that,” Wong said. “It’s how I came up through this system and came through life was going and playing and earning my spot. As long as I earn my spot, that’s all I want.”
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