FORT MYERS, Fla. — It’s almost as if many have given up hope trying to solve the Allen Craig mystery.
Not Mike Matheny.
In town to manage his Cardinals to a 7-2, Grapefruit League win over the Red Sox — while also getting a chance to see his son play for John Farrell’s team — St. Louis manager Mike Matheny was reminded that Craig, his former player, was on the other side of the diamond.
Craig’s plight has been well-documented, having gone from budding superstar with the Cardinals to overpaid minor leaguer in the Red Sox system. From 2011-13 with St. Louis, the first baseman hit a combined .312 with an .863 OPS. Last year he didn’t find any time in the majors, hitting .173 with a .530 OPS during a 22-game season with Triple-A Pawtucket.
And, of course, there’s also that contract that will play him $11 million in the final guaranteed season of his five-year, $31 million deal.
At 32 years old, Craig has lost quite a bit of faith throughout baseball. But there is still some emanating from his former manager’s corner.
“I saw him this winter. Talked to him just for a couple of minutes. I still believe this guy is going to hit,” Matheny said. “We watched something so impressive, the at-bats, the consistent at-bats that he was able to take. Some of the stuff he was doing, like how he was doing with men in scoring position, I realize that isn’t always going to translate exactly the same going into the future but there were a lot of things he was doing that should be able to keep coming back. it’s frustrating because he knows what’s in there. I would say the same thing for us. You hurt for a guy who has so much potential and he did so much for us. You’d like to see him be able to do what he’s capable of doing.”
So, where does Matheny believe it went wrong for Craig, who hasn’t been on the Red Sox 40-man roster for the past two spring trainings?
“There’s usually a physical component there somewhere and then it turns into confidence,” he said. “Confidence is king in this game. I think he just got to a point where physical confidence, making adjustments, maybe when you don’t even need to make adjustements, that stuff just snowballs. I remember living it. It will try you.”
— Matheny also admitted he isn’t surprised Joe Kelly has evolved into a late-inning reliever after having spent his final years in St. Louis, and first few seasons in Boston, as a starter.
“Any time you see a big arm like that, it’s pretty easy to project that he could probably have some effectiveness [in the bullpen],” the manager said. “He’s also a tough kid and that kind of lends himself to be able to be put in those high-leverage positions. Our thought was let’s see … and we did use him in the bullpen. He looked good out of the pen. But he’s one of those guys, for whatever reason, he was usually able to hold his velocity even when he was starting, kind of one of those rare commodities. Did a nice job for us both relieving and starting.”
The St. Louis manager also corroborated the idea that Kelly — who has already hit a full-court shot, and driven a golf ball 322 in bare feet this spring — is one of the more athletic pitchers in the game.
“We always have those conversations, it seems every year, like who is the athletic guy, who is the most athletic, and Joe’s name would come in the conversation,” Matheny said. “You watch him run, you watch him, anything he does, pretty obvious that he’s a fast-twitch guy. You could throw him in the outfield and he’d figure it out. Just a very versatile guy.”
— Matheny attempted to pull a fast one on his son after Tate came on to pinch-run for Xander Bogaerts. The Cardinals’ skipper called for a pickoff right away.
Tate would strike out in his only at-bat, but it still resulted in a memorable day for the former fourth-round pick and his father.
“Anytime we’re calling over guys we’ll notify them in the morning,” said Red Sox manager John Farrell. “That’s something you pay respect to a guy who hasn’t seen his kid play that often over the last few years because of the schedules. Just an opportunity to do so.”