Jon Jay is at home lower in lineup

SAN DIEGO • Almost as fast as you can say Jon Jay, the Cardinals center fielder has gone from table setter to run producer.

Jay, the leadoff man for much of the second half of last season and for the first month this season, has fit comfortably into the lower part of the lineup after struggling to reach base when he hit first.

Although he didn’t drive in a run Monday in the Cards’ 4-2 loss to the San Diego Padres, he had two hits and has driven in 15 runs in his past five games and had lifted his RBI total to 23, fourth highest on the club. Through Sunday he was hitting .342 with men in scoring position and .415 overall in his past 23 starts.
Jay had driven in 27, 37 and 40 runners in his first three big-league seasons but is on pace for 80 or so now.

“Those numbers for his lack of production in the past were kind of false numbers,’’ Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said. “He takes good at-bats. You don’t see him do much different with guys in scoring position.

“I know the year before last, he was known as a guy who wasn’t driving in runs. I think he’s proved to himself that he’s able to do that when the situation presents itself.”

Jay insists he is the same player whether he hits first or whether he bats sixth or seventh.

“When I hit in the top of the lineup, I still took pride in trying to drive guys in,” Jay said. “You get more chances (now) but I’ve still got the same approach. It’s the same to me, though ... as long as I’m playing. I’m just trying to get to October. Keep piling wins up.”

Hitting coach John Mabry said Jay “doesn’t scare.”

And by that, he meant not only does the lefthanded-hitting Jay feel capable of meeting any game situation but that he wasn’t afraid to make a rather radical in-season approach to his stance.

Where he used to lay the bat on his shoulder and then had a lot of movement before the pitch was delivered, Jay switched to having his bat more perpendicular to the ground and with less movement.

“I just started doing it and rolled with it,” Jay said. “It helps me get to the ‘ready’ position a lot sooner.”

The idea actually was fomented in the offseason when Jay called Mabry, who moved up from assistant hitting coach to the hitting coach position, and said he wanted to make an adjustment.

Jay didn’t really implement the plan much until about a month into season, with veteran outfielder Carlos Beltran also offering his advice on the matter.

“It was a collaborative effort,” Mabry said. “Jon doesn’t scare from any situation. When you’ve got that trait, you have the ability to drive in those runs like he’s driving them in.”

But Mabry admitted he and Jay were taking a chance of an in-season adjustment.

“It’s always a risk, any time you do something like that,” Mabry said. “You also might get better and reach your potential. You have to understand there are times when you have to do things in order for longevity in the league and to be the best player you can be.

“During the season, it’s tough. But, again, he doesn’t scare from any situation.”

There is some psychology involved, though, Mabry said.

“As a player, you have to be the one that wants to make the adjustment,” said Mabry, who had to make several as a hitter in his career. “If someone tells you you need to make the adjustment, you don’t wholeheartedly buy in all the time.

“As a player, if you say, ‘I think I can do something a little better and I want to try this,’ then you can buy into it.

“Any time you try something new, you can leave yourself a little bit vulnerable. Whether it works out or doesn’t work out, you can always have the experience of having tried it and seeing if you liked the results — if you got to balls you weren’t normally getting to, if the ball was carrying a little farther and if you were laying off balls that you wouldn’t normally lay off.

“All those things are a sign of a positive change. And I think he saw enough of that to maybe want to do it a little more. When he talked to Carlos, and (Beltran) reaffirmed it, that gave him the nudge in the right direction he wanted to go.

“You’re kind of making a leap of faith. And when you make that leap of faith and have immediate results, you say, ‘Whoa, this might be a way to go.’ If you go that way and struggle, you might never buy into it.

“He’s done a phenomenal job.”

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