By COREY NOLES
After fighting a stomach bug on his first day back in St. Louis, Cardinals second baseman Kolten Wong is ready to get back to work--and in the lineup.
Following a slow start at the major league level, Wong was optioned to the Triple-A Memphis Redbirds on April 27. Over 15 games, Wong batted .344 (22-for-64) with two home runs and 10 RBI.
During his time in Memphis, he focused on doing whatever necessary to earn him another promotion.
Wong said kept the pity party to a minimum.
"I looked at it as a chance for me to get better--to get my defense better and get my offense, especially, where it needs to be," Wong said. "I just took it as a challenge."
The goal was to do what had to be done and see how fast he could get back up. Apparently 16 days is all he needed.
"I was bummed the first couple days after being sent down, but I knew I was there for a reason and that I didn't want to be there for too long," Wong said.
The key to moving forward was to focus on every aspect of his game--making subtle changes both to his offensive and defensive approaches.
Offensively, Wong altered his stance in an effort to shorten up his swing a bit.
He lowered his kick--which was quite high early in the season--and widened his base a bit.
"With the high leg kick that I had coming in, it was more [about] trying to read the ball," Wong said. "Now that [the kick is] shorter and my base is wider, it's so much easier to see the ball, because there's not that many things moving now.
"It's real small, compact--where I need to be."
Adjusting his defensive approach takes more work than adjusting a stance. Wong said he had to change the way he thinks and how he watches the game.
His goal, he explained, is to "get more into" reading both pitchers and hitters. By doing that, he's been able to get better jumps on the ball during his time in Memphis.
The decision to work on his defense was entirely his own--not a directive from his manager. It didn't have to happen for him to make the jump to St. Louis, but it can't hurt.
The key, Wong explained, is to get a better look at the ball as it's coming off of the bat. He said his defense early in the season was not where it should have been, but that he's starting to feel more like the defender he knows he is capable of being.
"I didn't want to give away hits," Wong said about why he started trying to hone his defensive skills. "I'm gonna do what I can to take away hits on the right side."
Now that he's back in St. Louis, his focus is on doing what's necessary to stay.
For Wong, the answer to "how" may be to simply be in the lineup consistently. He spoke candidly Thursday about the value of regular playing time. In Memphis, he's convinced it made the difference for him.
Some players adapt to coming off of the bench over the course of their year. Wong shouldn't have to make that adjustment.
"I'm the kind of player that I need to play as much as possible," he said. "I love being in every game."
The way he was swinging the bat with Memphis, playing time shouldn't be a problem anymore.
Corey Noles is a Cardinals Writer and Columnist for The Daily Statesman. He is also a regular contributor to Bleacher Report and KSDK.com. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @coreynoles.