Starts in center swing Jon Jay's way

When Cardinals center fielder Jon Jay took the plunge last summer and agreed to overhaul his swing in the middle of a season, hitting coach John Mabry kept reassuring him that the season is long and full of opportunities to gather hits. His would be there, eventually.

That reminder still echoes into this season.

Only it’s playing time, not just hits, that may be there in the end.

“He kept telling me, ‘You’re going to do your part. Put in the work,’” Jay said Tuesday before his start against the Yankees at Busch Stadium. “I’ve always been confident in my abilities as a player. Even as I struggled, I knew that it was part of my growth in the big leagues. It was something I had to get over. I went through a tough stretch and I had to fight through it.”

Jay merited the start Tuesday after entering Monday’s game in the 10th inning and going two for two with a double in the Cardinals’ 6-4 loss. Jay drove in the Cardinals’ one extra-inning run. The late-game production came after his last-minute start Saturday and the three-hit outing he had that day, spelling ill starter Peter Bourjos. Jay has had similar surges already this season, and each has been marked by an increase in playing time.

Entering the year, manager Mike Matheny discussed how there would be times he’d base the starts in center on “the hot hand” and other times when he’d let Bourjos and Jay both start for a stretch. Bourjos has received increased starts recently as the Cardinals seek to see the kind of results he gives with regular playing time — and where prospects Randal Grichuk and Oscar Taveras could fit in as June approaches.

Jay has had to adjust from starter to time-share.

“What I try explaining to all of these guys is the idea is to take advantage of the opportunities,” Matheny said. “We’ve put Jon in some big spots — whether it’s a pinch-hit role or as a defensive replacement that ends up getting some at-bats. He ends up going about it very well, as expected. That’s all we can ask of him.”
This recent jag of production has raised Jay’s average to .294 from .267 in the span of seven games (three starts). While not in a strict platoon with the righthanded-hitting Bourjos, Jay has had limited exposure to lefties this season, but has hit .381 (eight for 21). He’s also posted a .348 on-base percentage against righties.

The reason behind the success in scattered starts goes back to the swing.

What Mabry and Jay set out to do last season was simplify the center fielder’s swing, reducing the churning motion of his hands — “helicopter hands,” Jay once called them — and making his timing better at the plate. The reward was a .311 average with a .379 on-base percentage in the second half. The residual effect has been a swing that he can keep going even if the at-bats are sporadic.“It’s easy to maintain your swing when you’re seeing pitches every day and doing things,” Jay said. “But I simplified it last year — that was the process — and by really learning my swing, what I want to do and why, that’s allowed me to know how you keep it going. Whenever my name is called, I’m trying to do the best I can.”

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