January 30, 2023

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In battle of adjustments, Gorman riding high

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ST. LOUIS — For Cardinals rookie Nolan Gorman, timing is everything — but maybe not in the traditional sense most would expect.

When discussing the home run tear that forced the hand of the Cardinals and made them promote him from Triple-A to the big leagues and the two monstrous long balls he has hit in St. Louis, Gorman repeatedly stressed that it’s all about timing for him at the plate. Formerly someone who used a high leg kick to generate power, Gorman found such a tactic wouldn’t work at the MLB level after pitchers often attacked him with high fastballs and offspeed stuff to send him into an 0-for-11 freefall.

To adapt and better align the timing of his swing with MLB velocities, the 22-year-old Gorman had the maturity and baseball IQ to adapt. He went to a wider stance where he merely goes up on his front toes and pivots through the ball — a change that has elicited some electrifying offensive thunder.

Gorman drilled a ball off the wall for a single in his first at-bat and then crushed a Nick Martinez changeup 404 feet for the second home run of his young MLB career Monday to lift the Cardinals to a 6-3 victory over the Padres.

“I guess I changed and got wider [with his stance] the second week of the season instead of a leg kick, and it feels good not having too much movement up there,” Gorman said. “That’s kind of what I’m sticking with.”

Gorman’s prowess at the plate has proved to come at the perfect time for a Cardinals offense that was badly in need of a jolt. He arrived at the MLB level May 20, singled in his first MLB at-bat and went 5-for-10 in a weekend sweep over the Pirates. MLB scouts are very good at their jobs, and the Blue Jays and Brewers proceeded to serve Gorman a bevy of high fastballs and changeups — something that didn’t mesh well with the high leg kick and necessitated change.

Gorman’s willingness to adapt at such a young age has even caught the eye of Paul Goldschmidt, who is arguably the best hitter in baseball right now. Goldschmidt homered and walked Sunday to extend his hit streak to 21 games and his on-base streak to a career-best 35 games.

His 22 extra-base hits in May tie him with Stan Musial (1954) and Albert Pujols (2003) for the most by a Cardinal in a month, but afterward, he preferred talking about the exploits of the Cardinals’ powerful rookie.

“He had a hit in his first at-bat and had those good games, and then they started throwing offspeed and the high fastballs, too, and he’s done a good job,” Goldschmidt said of Gorman’s adjustments. “You’ve got to lay off those tough pitches to get yourself the mistakes [from pitchers], and he’s done a great job with that.”

Gorman’s big day — he was 3-for-3 with a walk and two RBIs — was backed up by fellow newcomer Andre Pallante, who pitched 3 1/3 innings for his first MLB victory.

Gorman and Pallante are two of the eight Cardinals who have already made their MLB debuts — tied for the most in baseball — to breathe youthful exuberance into a veteran-laden clubhouse. Like Gorman on Saturday, Pallante got doused with liquids Monday to celebrate his milestone win.

Manager Oliver Marmol said he discussed with Gorman the need to adapt at the MLB level to be successful. He said the willingness to make changes to his approach at the plate — one that worked well while he hit 15 home runs for Triple-A Memphis — speaks volumes about Gorman’s readiness as a professional.

“It’s hard to make adjustments at the big league level, and we talked about in the last week about his ability to stay calm regardless of situation, and this is an example of him making an adjustment at the highest level there is,” Marmol said. “That speaks to his aptitude and his overall just being good.”

Gorman’s ability to hit the ball hard came back to bite him in the first inning. His liner left the bat at 105.4 mph and hit the wall so hard that it bounced back to right fielder José Azocar, who easily threw Gorman out at second.

Two innings later, there was nothing Azocar could do as Gorman’s 105.7 mph blast sailed over his head and cleared the bullpen for a second time in three days.

In some ways, Gorman’s work in Memphis (15 HRs) and St. Louis (two HRs) puts him in the same company as MLB leader Aaron Judge (18 HRs). Heady company, for sure, but he sees it as no big deal.

“That’s just part of my game — drive in runs and hit the ball hard and far,” he said matter-of-factly. “The big thing for me is to just get a good pitch to hit and do damage.”

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