Juan Encarnacion, a member of the 2006 World Champion club, joined the Double-A Springfield Cardinals on Monday night for an eight-game home stand at Hammons Field.
Encarnacion, who had surgery on his left wrist in December to have a ligament realigned, has been on the Disabled List since the beginning of the 2007 season. He is expected to remain with Springfield for the duration of the eight-game home stand, which ends on April 30.
In his first year with St. Louis, Encarnacion batted .278 with 19 home runs and 79 RBIs in 153 games, helping the Cards win their first World Series in 24 years.
Encarnacion becomes the third St. Louis Cardinals' player to see time with Springfield on a Major League rehab assignment, joining pitcher Cal Eldred and outfielder Larry Bigbie over the last three seasons. Eldred pitched in three games for Springfield in June of 2005 at Hammons Field. Bigbie didn't appear in any home games at Hammons Field, but did play in six road games in July and August of 2006.
In his debut at bat as a Springfield Cardinal, Encarnacion, who is in Springfield to get some time at the plate, swung at the first pitch and hit a foul ball fly out to short first base and was retired. He went 0-for-3 for the night as the Cards lost 6-1.
Springfield was rained out on Tuesday and returned to a soggy Hammons Field to play a rain-delayed game on Wednesday, the third of a four-game series with Wichita. Encarnacion collected his first hit in that game, a single, and the Springfield Cardinals finally got a win at home. In the bottom of the ninth, John Jay smashed a walk-off homer to centerfield that went all the way to the wall, allowing Mike Ferris to score the winning run as the Cardinals prevailed 4-3.
Mike Lindskog, the voice of the Springfield Cardinals, called it something like this: "Wichita reliever Billy Buckner gave up a lead-off double to Jarrett Hoffpauir to open the ninth, but caught a break when Cards' first baseman Mike Ferris' attempted sacrifice bunt came back to Buckner, who was able to retire Hoffpauir at third base. Consecutive infield singles from Tyler Greene and Juan Encarnacion loaded the bases with one out, setting the table for Jay's second hit and first game-winner of the year.
"Cards starter Eric Haberer was effective through five innings despite struggling with his control. Haberer walked three men in the third, including Craig Brazell with the bases loaded, forcing in Geraldo Valentine from third base for a 1-0 Wichita lead. Haberer left after getting into trouble with one out in the sixth. The left-hander allowed a total of three runs on four hits, walking five men in 5 1/3 innings. The Cards tied the game at 1-1 in the third, getting an RBI groundout from St. Louis Cardinals outfielder Juan Encarnacion, who appeared in the second game of his rehab assignment as the designated hitter. He finished the night 1-for-4 with an RBI.
"Jarrett Hoffpauir's second homer of the year, a solo shot against Wichita starter and Royals' rehabbing pitcher Luke Hudson, gave the Cards a 2-1 lead in the fourth. Hudson left after 4 1/3 innings, allowing two runs on three hits. Wichita took the lead after chasing Haberer in the sixth. With one out, two straight hitters reached, as Jorge Padilla singled and Chris Lubanski walked. Hugo Castellanos came out of the bullpen and with two outs and the bases loaded, gave up a two-run single to Adam Donachie, giving Wichita the lead at 3-2.
"Juan Richardson's second homer in as many games tied the game in the sixth, a solo shot to left-center field off of Billy Buckner (1-3), who allowed a total of two runs on seven hits in four-plus innings. Chris Perez (1-0) pitched a perfect ninth inning for his first Double-A win."
It is pretty hard to tell from the press box if Encarnacion has improved since coming to Springfield. Managers, trainers and coaches look for different things in players than sportswriters and fans (my wife judges a player's playing ability by how tight he can wear his baseball pants and still breathe). His swinging at the first pitch and making an easy out and low pitch count for the hurler isn't giving him the maximum time at the plate to allow all of us arm-chair managers to assess the situation.
The fans are certainly happy to see Encanarcion in Springfield and are hungry to give him a warm Springfield "Man we love you" crowd cheer every time he approaches the plate. All they need is a spark to ignite the roar, but as yet, Encarnacion has failed to provide even a glimmer of a flare of hero fire. Juan can bring down the house in Springfield, but he has to first make that great play from the plate. Since he has been playing the position of designated hitter, he won't get many opportunities to make a memorable play in the field.
As of yet, their doesn't seem to be much of a connection between Encarnacion and the fans at Hammons, but all it would take is one swing and the fans would raise his praise to the skyboxes and Juan would realize the feel of being surrounded by the cheers and upraised beers of the greatest fans in minor league baseball—The Springfield Cardinal Fans. Go Cards and good luck Juan Encarnacion. We all hope you leave a winner.
UPDATE: On April 26, the Springfield Cardinals beat the Wichita Wranglers 6-2, taking two out of three of the four-game series with one game to be made up later due to a rain-out on April 24. Springfield (7-9) is now in second place, after winning their second straight game at home. The Tulsa Drillers (10-10), the first-place team in the Northern Division, come into Hammons Field on Friday night to begin a four-game series. Four wins by Springfield could change the world of Texas League Baseball as we know it. Go Cards!
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