Taveras the magic answer? Not yet. Enough to stick? Could well be
JUN 06, 2014 10:44a ET
KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Like several of his teammates, Oscar Taveras sat at a table inside the visitors' clubhouse at Kauffman Stadium on Thursday night staring at a computer. The Cardinals had just lost again, 3-2 to the Royals, and players were studying video to see what could have gone wrong in their at-bats.
With his pal Carlos Martinez watching beside him, Taveras kept checking his ninth-inning at-bat, a bouncer up the middle that went for an infield hit -- after a replay challenge overturned the initial call of out.
Taveras didn't look much like a rookie except, perhaps, for a grin he couldn't quite stifle as he watched himself signal "safe" as he crossed the base, then turned and jumped excitedly in the direction of first-base umpire Dan Iassogna after "out" was signaled. Taveras had reason to smile, though. He had ended up with a hit off Greg Holland, one of the hottest closers in the game, to lead off the ninth with the Cardinals down by one. The next three hitters struck out to quash any hopes of a rally, but Taveras at least had another hit.
It was his fifth in 22 at-bats since he made his much-anticipated major-league debut last Saturday. Amid all the hoopla and expectations over his arrival, anything less than a homer a game and a .500 batting average almost would seem like a disappointment for Cardinal Nation. While Taveras delivered a memorable debut with a go-ahead home run to break a 0-0 tie, he since has scored only once and driven in only one run.
In other words, he's fit right into an offense that continues to sputter. In six games since his arrival, he's second on the team in hits and his one homer is as many as anyone else on the club. The Cardinals have gone 2-4 since his arrival.
While Taveras hasn't provided a magic answer, he has shown enough to give the Cardinals a difficult decision when their interleague trip ends after five more games and Matt Adams is ready to return from the disabled list, which could be as soon as next Friday. Is he ready to stay in the majors?
"He's going about it the right way," Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said Thursday. "He's doing a nice job in the outfield, he's working and he's going to continue to get better."
"I feel comfortable," Taveras said. "Manager said to me, go out there and play the game and have some fun. That's what I'm trying to do. I feel good."
Taveras, who turns 22 on June 19, said the pitching is better than what he faced in Class AAA -- "It's quicker" -- but he has not appeared the least bit overmatched. He has yet to walk but has struck out only three times, once when he took a strike three that easily could have been called a ball. He has made hard contact far more often than he has been fooled.
"He's going to put up good at-bats. He's going to hit the ball hard," Matheny said. "The way he hits, he's set up for success. He's a see-it-and-hit-it guy with a lot of bat speed with great hand-eye coordination."
Taveras has looked good outside of the batter's box, too. He made a diving catch in right field that saved a run Thursday night, he has shown a strong arm and he has hustled down the first-base line. While the latter might seem like a given, a scout told me earlier this week that running out grounders wasn't necessarily Taveras' forte in the minors. "But I don't think that will be a problem up here," the scout said.
The Cardinals are watching more than Taveras' hitting, too, though they are becoming near desperate for an offensive spark. "I know what kind of hitter he is. We have to see the whole package," said Matheny, pointing to a willingness to learn and prepare for big-league games.
His teammates, who have seen him plenty in spring training and have been hearing about him for years, seem to have accepted him. "He's doing fine," Yadier Molina said. "He's up here learning and trying hard."
Taveras is trying hard to appease everyone, even the media. He isn't all that comfortable doing interviews in English, but he did not ask for a translator when I approached him Thursday and he did not shy away from a scrum in St. Louis on his first day.
Exactly how much he truly has grasped is another story. I asked him a few questions that, based on his replies, I don't believe he fully understood. Because my Spanish is far, far weaker than his English, we moved on. There was no doubt, however, that he got one question: Are you ready to stay in the big leagues?
"Oh, for sure," he said. "I want to stay here a long time."
In one week, he has shown that he is capable of staying for the long haul. Now he has another week to convince the Cardinals.