ST. LOUIS — Most people who follow the St. Louis Cardinals believe outfielder Randal Grichuk is getting his last serious opportunity to prove he can be an everyday player over the long haul.
If Sunday night is any indication, consider Grichuk’s latest first impression to be a smashing one.
In his first game back with St. Louis after nearly a month in the minor leagues, Grichuk went 2-for-5 with two runs and a 478-foot homer in the sixth inning of an 8-4 win over the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Grichuk figures to get a chance to follow that up Monday when the Cardinals host the Cincinnati Reds in a makeup game that ends a four-game homestand.
Although Grichuk struck out twice, giving him 56 in 172 big-league at-bats this year, he clearly took better at-bats than he did for most of April and May. He saw a whopping 31 pitches, finishing his sixth-inning plate appearance with the second-longest homer in Busch Stadium III history.
“That was a bomb,” manager Mike Matheny said. “It looks like he made some great adjustments while he was away. It’s nice to have him back.”
Watching Grichuk flail and fail during the season’s first two months made some people forget he averaged a homer every 20 at-bats prior to this season, the traditional gold standard of a true power hitter.
There is definitely opportunity for him at this point. With center fielder Dexter Fowler on the 10-day disabled list with a right heel spur, Grichuk will get at-bats in the middle of an order begging for a true thumper.
“I came back here with confidence,” he said, “but you never really know until you do it in a game. Being in Triple-A is way different than being here in terms of a game atmosphere. So this feels good.”
St. Louis (34-40) would feel better if it could crack the code against a Cincinnati team that has lost 13 of 15 games since sweeping a four-game series from the Cardinals earlier this month at Great American Ball Park.
One of the Reds’ two wins since then occurred Sunday in Washington, where Cincinnati scored five first-inning runs and cruised to a 6-2 victory behind seven solid innings from veteran Scott Feldman.
“I thought Scott was at his best in the last three innings,” Cincinnati manager Bryan Price said.
Left-hander Brandon Finnegan (1-0, 2.70 ERA) will try to secure the Reds’ eighth win in 10 meetings with the Cardinals. Finnegan is set to return from the disabled list after missing more than two months due to left shoulder issues. He allowed four runs over five innings Wednesday night in a rehab start for Triple-A Louisville, and he produced a 3.00 ERA in three rehab outings.
He has been tough on St. Louis since being acquired by Cincinnati from Kansas City at the 2015 trade deadline, going 2-1 with a 3.13 ERA in seven outings (five starts).
Michael Wacha (3-3, 4.76 ERA) will oppose Finnegan in what could be a big start for him. The St. Louis right-hander has failed to last past the fifth inning in five of his past six starts, including Wednesday night, when the Philadelphia Phillies reached him for nine hits and five runs (two earned) in four innings.
However, Wacha has mostly excelled against Cincinnati, going 7-1 with a 2.95 ERA in 15 career appearances(13 starts).