Feel the power: Heyward cranks first homer as a Cardinal

ST. LOUIS — The Cardinals expected to add above-average power and defense when they made a trade with Atlanta last winter to acquire Jason Heyward.

And while he’s flashed his elite glove multiple times while wearing the Birds on the Bat, the power remained to be seen. 

Heyward took a big step toward changing that in the third inning Saturday afternoon with a 414-foot missile to right-center off Cincinnati starter Homer Bailey. The solo shot put St. Louis ahead for good in a series-clinching 5-2 win over the visiting Reds.

"It’s good to get runs up against a team like that," said Heyward, who followed up his home run with a nice sliding catch on Marlon Byrd’s line drive in the next inning. "I feel like they can score runs in a hurry, and it’s good not to let them get momentum back the next inning."

St. Louis manufactured plenty of runs thanks to at least seven hits in the first five games of its homestand, but the ball hadn’t cleared the wall prior to Heyward’s home run. He hit a career-low 11 last season in Atlanta, but Cardinals third baseman Matt Carpenter knows his new teammate can be a significant long-ball threat.

"He’s a big boy with a good swing," Carpenter said. "It’s bound to happen and hopefully he’s got a lot more in there for us."

Heyward struggled to find hits in the early going after three in a row against Cubs starter Jon Lester on Opening Night, but manager Mike Matheny saw more than what was in the box score. Plenty of line-drive outs and some great defensive plays by opponents have contributed to keeping Heyward’s average at .227.

"He’s having a nice start for us and has hit the ball better than what his average indicates right now," Matheny said. "He’s putting together some really good at-bats, even getting guys over and doing the little things right as well."

The second-lowest home-run total in MLB doesn’t appear to be bothering the first-place Cardinals, who have scored at least four runs in their last eight games and 19 during their current four-game win streak. Matheny still said he believes the power will come for players such as Matt Holliday, Matt Adams and Jhonny Peralta, who have combined for one home run in 105 at-bats.

3 UP

• Doubling up again. The parade of doubles continued for the consistent Cardinals lineup.

Holliday got things started in the first inning, and Yadier Molina hit his second double in as many days to drive in Peralta in the fourth. Carpenter added his seventh double in the last five games to bring home two runs and extend the St. Louis lead to 5-1.

"I think that certainly if you can stay gap-to-gap here you’ve got an opportunity to rack up some extra-base hits," Carpenter said. "It’s a big park. It plays big, even bigger than the dimensions read."

• Magnificent Martinez. Another day, another impressive outing for a Cardinals starter.

The fifth man in the rotation, Carlos Martinez, held Cincinnati to one run on three hits in six innings for his first win of the season, lowering his ERA to 2.25 in 12 innings of total work. Despite a solo home run by Zack Cozart, Martinez said through an interpreter he felt more comfortable than a week ago against the Reds, when he gave up two runs in six innings.

"He seems to have a pretty good feel for the changeup and the breaking ball, to kind of put a little more on, take a little off," Matheny said. "That’s something you don’t necessarily teach. It’s just a feel."

• Rosenthal dramatics. Trevor Rosenthal got the job done in the ninth, but it wasn’t without a little excitement.

The Cardinals’ closer gave up a one-out single to Cozart and walked pinch-hitter Brennan Boesch to give Joey Votto an at-bat as the game-tying run. But the Reds’ home-run leader, who hit his third of the season against St. Louis on Friday, ended up trying to get out of the way as a Rosenthal changeup caught the inside corner for a game-ending strikeout.


• Holliday hurt. Holliday’s first extra-base hit of the season came with a minor complication.

He didn’t return to the field after coming around to score on Adams’ two-out single in the first inning, forcing St. Louis to move Jon Jay to left field and put Peter Bourjos in center. Matheny said Holliday, who has hit safely in all 10 games this season, had some discomfort on a check swing and left with mid-back tightness.

"Better safe than sorry," Matheny said. "Completely precautionary and (he) should be ready to go (Sunday)."

• Wong sits. Pete Kozma couldn’t do much to improve the Cardinals’ production in the No. 8 hole with an 0-for-3 day in his first start of the season.

Regular second baseman Kolten Wong took a seat after collecting one hit and three errors in the first four games of the homestand. Matheny said he wants to give some chances to Kozma, who hit .408 in 49 at-bats this spring, but Wong also needed a rest.

"No question. Part of that’s a day here to back off, but be ready to come in and play a big role late," Matheny said before the game. "It’s a Kozma issue and it’s a Wong ‘take a breath and get ready’ because he’s been working real hard."

As it turned out, Wong took advantage of his pinch-hit opportunity with a two-out single back up the middle in the eighth inning.

• Peralta streak ends. Peralta went hitless for the first time all season, including three at-bats with runners on base. The shortstop still reached base on a fielder’s choice, and he probably won’t be too concerned about his average dropping to .325.

You can follow Luke Thompson on Twitter at @FS_LukeT or email him at lukegthompson87@gmail.com.