JUPITER, Fla. — Sometime Friday night, possibly after the Cardinals have finished their exhibition game against the Memphis Redbirds, manager Mike Matheny figures to call shortstop Pete Kozma into his office.
Their meeting will be one that both have seen coming since the Cardinals signed Jhonny Peralta four months ago, but anticipation doesn’t figure to make it any easier. Telling a player he is going to the minors rarely is, especially after the player has spent a full season in the majors as the regular shortstop on a team that won the NL pennant.
But Kozma will not be stunned. After he hit .217 with a puny .543 OPS last season, how could he be? It’s not like he plays for the Houston Astros. He knows he’s on a team with playoff aspirations year in and year out.
"They’re trying to win every year," Kozma said recently. "Taking my last season into account, I know they’re going to look at every position and see how they performed."
The 25-year-old Oklahoman says this as matter-of-factly as though he’s talking about the weather. But don’t misunderstand his lack of emotion for not caring. For Kozma, a golf clap is high excitement. He still will be as disappointed as anyone about losing his job. He just understands that the decision is out of his hands and, as his manager preaches, worrying about things he can’t control won’t do him any good.
"I still have a jersey on," he said.
A .206 batting average this spring doesn’t show any improvement in his offense, but Kozma insists the adjustments he has made with his swing are helping. He is trying to shorten it, which, he said, will help improve his plate discipline.
"I can see the ball longer and have a better idea of the strike zone," Kozma said. "It feels and looks good in BP, but it can be tough in games when you’re not getting a lot of at-bats. I take some of the results with a grain of salt."
Kozma started working on his swing last season but learned making changes while trying to hold down a job was not easy. He started 2013 hitting OK — his average was .278 after a 4-for-4 on May 26 — but declined steadily through July and August. By season’s end, he had lost his job as the regular to Daniel Descalso. After Kozma went 5 for 35 in the playoffs, GM John Mozeliak made no secret of the club’s plan to upgrade offensively at shortstop.
With Peralta on board and Descalso entrenched as the club’s top utility infielder, Kozma now faces the probability of beginning the season in the minors, as the Cardinals have shown little interest in trading him.
Throughout spring training, Matheny has lauded Kozma as well as another regular who could lose his starting job, center fielder Jon Jay, for handling their difficult decisions.
"We made sure we told them just stay the course," Matheny said. "Keep working on what you’re working on and this stuff will take care of itself. Both of them are very capable major-league players. I see upside. I see better than what we’ve seen before in them."
Maybe so, but that won’t make his meeting with Kozma any easier.
You can follow Stan McNeal on Twitter at @stanmcneal or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.