ST. LOUIS — In what almost qualifies as a news flash these days, Cardinals out fielder Jon Jay was not hit by a pitch Sunday. His body certainly could use a respite after being plunked five times in the previous four days.
In another development that hardly qualifies as a news flash these days, Jay delivered another big hit for the Cardinals on Sunday. His two-run single was the key blow in a four-run first inning that started the Cardinals on the way to a 5-0 lead that ended up a 7-6 victory over the Padres. Jay’s two first-inning RBI came three days after he came through with a two-run double in the eighth inning that turned a 3-2 deficit into a 4-3 victory over San Diego.
Thanks in no small part to Jay, the Cardinals won three out of four against the Padres to take some momentum into a three-game series against the struggling Reds, who were swept in a doubleheader at Colorado and dropped 8 1/2 games out of first place. On a day when Trevor Rosenthal threatened to blow a three-run lead for the Cardinals, Reds closer Aroldis Chapman walked the first four Rockies he faced and the Reds blew a four-run lead in the ninth to lose, 10-9. A 10-5 loss in the second game sends Cincinnati to Busch Stadium with seven losses in their past nine games.
The Cardinals still trail the first-place Brewers by three games but have built a 2 1/2-game lead on third-place Pittsburgh and a 5 1/2-game cushion on fourth-place Cincinnati.
Jay has done his part in helping the Cardinals to a strong start in a weeklong homestand.
After adding a seventh-inning single, Jay upped his batting average to .500 during a season-best, nine-game hitting streak in which he has driven in nine runs and scored eight. The career .294 hitter also raised his average for the season to .304, just four points behind team leader Matt Adams. Thanks in part to the HBPs, Jay has improved his on-base percentage to .372, just four points behind team leader Matt Carpenter.
For a guy who was supposed to have lost his job last offseason, the University of Miami’s proudest alum is doing pretty darn well.
"He’s having a nice year," manager Mike Matheny said Sunday. "Just look at what he’s been able to do. I like the way he’s going about it defensively, too."
No one seems overly bothered that Jay is getting hit almost as often as he is delivering hits. He has moved into the major-league lead with 14 HBPs this season, giving him an NL-most 43 over the past three seasons.
"He doesn’t do a lot of bailing out when the ball comes at him," Matheny said. "Jon stays in there and takes it, not that he’s leaning over the plate. But if they miss in at him, he’s going to go ahead and wear it. They keep missing more on him than anybody else."
Added Jay: "Guys are going to throw inside to try to get me out. Sometimes they’re going to miss inside. It’s part of it. It’s not a big deal to me. There’s no secret or anything, and it’s not like I’m trying to go up there and get hit by a pitch."
He was smiling as he talked, more pleased to be getting on base than perturbed by any pain he has absorbed. As he pointed out, the errant pitches have hit him on the lower half, where there is considerably more padding than the rest of the body.
"It always hurts," Jay said. "I’ve got a couple of bruises here and there, nothing too bad. "I’ve been pretty fortunate that it hasn’t been anything too serious. Hopefully, it stays that way."
Don’t look for the lefty hitter to back off the plate or change his approach in the batter’s box. He says getting plunked has been part of his game since his days at The U and he understands it is part of the hazards of a high OBP.
"I don’t change. I’m going to keep doing the same things I always do," he said. "Just stay in there and have a good at-bat, try to let the ball get deep."
Positive — though sometimes painful — things will happen, based on recent results.