Jon Jay's versatility major contribution to his successful 2014 season

MILWAUKEE - For Jon Jay, this season has not been easy.

The St. Louis Cardinal organization, feeling Jay's defense in 2013 was substandard, traded in the off-season for speedy center-fielder Peter Bourjos. And they gave Jay just a one-year contract, something most players would have interpreted as a not-very-subtle message.

Cards skipper Mike Matheny knew how Jay must have felt so he called Jay after the Bourjos trade.

"I told him I didn't know how all this would play out. I said we'd figure it out as we went along. He knew he was not as good defensively as he needed to be. He said he thought he could have done better."

Matheny said he knew the outfield competition would be good for Jay and the ball club as a whole.

"(Players) need to be pushed," he said before Saturday's crucial ball game with the Milwaukee Brewers. "Guys are motivated by a lot of things - contracts, (playing time), and all that. Jon came in here with Bourjos, Randal Grichuk, Oscar Taveras and he worked hard to help those guys get better. He bought into the culture (of the Cardinals.) I believe that comes back around," he said.

Whether it is karma, competition or just a renewed commitment, Jay has excelled both offensively and defensively in 2014.

Entering Saturday's game, Jay was hitting a team-leading .321 (.391 on-base percentage). with 15 doubles, 39 RBIs and an uncanny ability to get on base when it counts the most, including 16 times hit by a pitch.

But beyond those numbers lies Jay's other contribution to the Cardinals' success, his willingness to work with young players. That culture, said Redbirds' utility infielder Daniel Descalso, is something the team prides itself on. Descalso said the extra effort to make players feel welcome was something he experienced when he first arrived in the clubhouse. Descalso credits former Cardinal outfielder Skip Schumacher with encouraging him to pass on that camaraderie, a suggestion he and Jay have taken to heart.

Still, Matheny said, he is very sensitive to the mood in the clubhouse and understands what players are feeling. "There are days when Jay's not happy (because he's not in the line-up). I know that. I understand it. I've been that guy. But he'll tell me he's ready to do whatever I need him to do, that he'll be ready. And he means it."

Matheny said Jay's defensive improvement, his toughness, and the ability to put together quality at bats is one big reason why the Cardinals have been in contention all year. While he knows that not playing on a regular basis is hard on Jay and some of the younger Cardinals, he will continue to ride the hottest hand. "We're all in," Matheny said.

And so far the skipper has pushed all the right buttons at exactly the right time.

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