Jon Jay won't go away

Jon Jay appeared to be the odd outfielder out when the Cardinals started the season.

General manager John Mozeliak acquired Peter Bourjos during the winter to play center field this season. A second outfielder acquired in that trade, Randal Grichuk, starred during spring training and moved onto the cusp of promotion.

Both players have excellent outfield range and stronger throwing arms than Jay.

Then there was Oscar Taveras, the franchise's next great hitting prospect. He got back to full speed during spring training and joined Grichuk on the career launching pad. Like Grichuk, he offered a tremendous power potential.

Those players pushed for roles on this year's team while Jay tried to bounce back from a disappointing year. Jay struggled during the first half of last season, hitting .213 in April and .231 in June.

He regrouped to hit .311 after the All-Star break, but then he went 3 for 16 in the NLDS, 4 for 18 in the NLCS and 3 for 18 in the World Series.

Combined with his struggles in center field -- where he misjudged a number of fly balls at inopportune times -- that offensive slippage seemed to doom Jay to a peripheral role at best on this team.

But while those around him struggled this season, Jay regained his familiar offensive and defensive form.

He is hitting .301 in 143 at bats. He still offers only gap power (seven doubles, one triple, one homer), but he has delivered some timely run production.

Jay is doing a much better job of tracking fly balls, too, reaching most balls hit into the gaps and over his head. He is once again serviceable in center field.
As manager Mike Matheny ponders how to realign his roster and lineup with Matt Adams returning from the disabled list, Jay's recent 9-for-22 upturn should factor into the decision-making process.

Matt Holliday isn't hitting like Matt Holliday. Allen Craig isn't hitting like Allen Craig.

But Jon Jay is definitely hitting like Jon Jay, which is one of the bright spots for this puzzling offense. He has played his way back into regular work in center field.

He should stay out there until he plays his way out of that assignment. Since he is 11 for 26 against lefthanded pitchers this season, there is no reason to platoon him with Bourjos right now.

(Peter, by the way, is 9 for 50 against lefties this season. Yikes!)

With Adams injured and the DH slot available, both Jay and Bourjos got an opportunity to play during the American League road swing. Jay fared better, so he should get the at bats until further notice.

Jay's surge also impacts the Taveras/Grichuk dilemma. With Jay deserving to play every day and Matheny feeling no urge to give Holliday or Craig much time off, there are not a many at bats for whomever fills the fifth outfielder slot.

Adams has a .924 OPS against righthanded pitchers, so he needs to start against them at first base. Against left-handed starters, Craig can play first, Jay can play right field and either Bourjos or the fifth outfielder could play center.

It would be much easier to find, say, 20 at-bats per week for Taveras if Jay were struggling. Oscar could start a game per week in center, spell Holliday and Craig from time to time against tough righthanders, start in right field versus lefties and double-switch into some games as a pinch-hitter.

But that plan doesn't make sense with Jay hitting .301 and Taveras 7 for 37 in his first big league tour.

Down the road, Mozeliak will have to sort the pile with a trade or two. For now, the Cardinals need to ride whatever hot hand they can find in the organization.
Right now, Jay is one of those players. Who could have predicted this back in March or April?

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