Ozzie Smith fan Socolovich says joining Cards is a ‘dream come true’

Cardinals Hall of Famer Ozzie Smith was Miguel Socolovich's favorite player growing up. 

ST. LOUIS — The chance to wear the Birds on the Bat for the first time will be extra special for the St. Louis Cardinals’ newest reliever.

Miguel Socolovich already made his major league debut in Baltimore in 2012 and also pitched for the Chicago Cubs later that season. He’s looking forward to the opportunity to throw to Gold Glove catcher and fellow Spanish speaker Yadier Molina, and St. Louis holds a special significance.

"When I was a little kid I always wanted to play with the Cardinals and now it’s my dream come true," Socolovich says. "I grew up watching the (Cardinals) games back home in Venezuela. All the history they have, it’s awesome."

His favorite player was Ozzie Smith, and he got a chance to meet the Hall of Fame shortstop in spring training. Socolovich earned two saves and threw 4 1/3 scoreless innings, a streak he continued to 12 1/3 more innings at Triple A Memphis in April.

The Redbirds primarily used him as a long reliever, and that’s where Matheny says Socolovich could fit if needed this weekend against Pittsburgh. Carlos Villanueva won’t be available until at least Saturday after throwing 37 pitches in Thursday’s 9-3 win over Philadelphia, so Socolovich could get an opportunity early out of a somewhat depleted bullpen.

"He’s had some experience and (we) knew he had a very good changeup and was able to make some pitches with his offspeed," Matheny says. "He showed a good fastball, too, so (he’s) a guy we think that could be effective against lefties and righties."

Socolovich struck out nine batters but also walked eight in seven appearances for Memphis this season. Still, he kept all of them from scoring by giving up only five hits in 14 at-bats.

• Staying hot. The 15-6 Cardinals finished April with Major League Baseball’s best record, but things might get a little tougher in the second month of the season.

It’s dangerous to put too much stock into the standings so early, since some April opponents, such as Washington, figure to improve on slower-than-expected starts. Cincinnati would be a healthy 10-6 without five losses in six games against St. Louis, and it would be surprising if the New York Mets continue their dominance in the National League East.

But even before the season began, May looked like a challenging month for the Cardinals, and the contrast is even more stark after April. They’ll play three games each against three division leaders — the Royals, Mets and Dodgers — and 26 of 29 games against teams with winning records as of Friday, compared to just two of 21 in April.

St. Louis’ 2.40 ERA is the best in baseball, more than half a run better than the second-place Pittsburgh Pirates. The Cardinals offense may not have gotten as much attention, but they’re second in the National League with a .339 on-base percentage and scored 25 runs in three wins against Philadelphia to close out April.

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