CHICAGO — After a day of refusing to “keep going on the road, we were going…and we’re probably going to end up somewhere worse, long-term” with Wilson Contreras as their catcher, the Cardinals have been working to try to rebuild their relationship and trust with the three-timers. The All-Stars, who returned Monday to the spot of their biggest professional success.
Manager Oliver Marmul organized pre- and post-game meetings on Sunday where veteran players like Adam Wainwright and Jack Flaherty could remind the 30-year-old Contreras that he remains a big part of their future – both as a heart-hitter for the system and as the team’s primary catcher in the not-too-distant future. However, the fact remains that the Cardinals were concerned enough about Contreras’ lack of connection with a struggling staff that they decided to hold him off catching indefinitely.
Marmol said before the Cardinals face the Cubs on Monday at Wrigley Field. “That’s just noise; that goes too far.”
“This sounds reactive…but I actually think it’s proactive,” Marmol added.
Over the weekend, the Cardinals announced that Contreras—the free agent catcher they targeted to replace Yadier Molina and eventually rewarded with an $87.5 million contract to lure him away from the Cubs—will play exclusively at DH for the time being while backup Andrew Kniesner handles the catch duties. Hoping to show Contreras that he wasn’t in charge of an 11-24 start in which the Cardinals were already as far from first in the division as they had been since the end of the 1997 season, the veteran members of the team rallied around the 30-year-old catcher/AED.
“What we did is we sat yesterday and just poured on it,” said Wainwright, who returned Saturday after missing five weeks with a groin strain. “We love this guy. We’re glad he’s here and we want him to be our man. I think he took it really well. Honestly, I don’t know if anyone told him that. But he’s appreciated, we love him and we’re glad he’s here.”
The timing of the position change was, at best, awkward with Contreras returning to Chicago on Monday to take on the team he played for seven seasons. In addition to being a three-time All-Star during his time in Chicago, he helped the Cubs win the World Series in 2016.
Contreras, who entered the series hitting . 265 with two homers, nine doubles and 14 RBIs, was in the Cardinals’ lineup on Monday as a DH. Admittedly, he was nervous about how the Cubs fans would greet him now that he was on the other side of the competition.
“There is a good chance [that he will be booed], but I hope it’s 50/50 — 50 percent are going to cheer me on, 50 percent are going to boo me, and that’s okay,” Contreras said. “I will never be angry with my Chicago fan base because I will always be grateful to them. They always supported me. But there is a chance, yeah, [that he will be booed]. “
In addition to Wainwright, Marmol and others with the Cardinals showing their support in recent days, Contreras said he feels good to have received an influx of positive messages from Cardinals fans via social media.
“The support I’ve had from day one has been really special,” he said. “Today, I received [direct messages] And letters I never thought I’d receive. These are really special to me, and I’m really thankful for these fans and for me to be playing in front of one of the best fanbases in baseball.”
While he declined to go into specifics about the areas Contreras needs to improve before returning to regular catching duties, Marmul said the addition of pitch timer and pitchers like Miles Mikolas, Giovanni Gallegos and Wainwright lost time in spring training because of the global catch. Classic baseball was a factor in making Contreras’ transition with the Cardinals more difficult. However, he feels the organization and the hunt have moved closer together after a series of Sunday meetings.
“The conversations that have been taking place behind closed doors with a meaningful group are going to move this thing forward,” Marmol said. “It could not have been written better than yesterday.”
David Ross, Contreras’ manager with the Cubs and former MLB catcher with seven franchises, said the Cardinals were sure to go through growing pains — no matter who the new catcher was — after being awarded the Gold Glover nine times as Molina held the position for 19 seasons.
“Yadi has done some special things and she’s not going to replace that person,” Ross said. “Doing things differently sometimes doesn’t go smoothly. It happens with new managers and new pitchers and with new changes in the coaching staff. It takes an adjustment period, and I think that goes for everything.”
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