8/21/2014 1:03 A.M. ET
Jay emerging as force in Cards' lineup
By Jenifer Langosch / MLB.com
ST. LOUIS -- Having started the season with little promise of playing time and work to do to move up the depth chart, Jon Jay has recently become the toughest out in the Cardinals' lineup.
Now entrenched as the team's starting center fielder, Jay extended his season-best hitting streak to 12 games with a single in his second at-bat on Wednesday night and then followed that with hits in two of his next three to finish the homestand 11-for-19. He reached base another eight times by being hit by pitches six times and walking twice.
In three of the six starts he made during the team's 6-1 homestand, Jay was on base four times. His batting average has climbed to .313, which would rank as second-best in the National League if he had enough plate appearances to qualify for that leader board.
"Jon had a very good day for us again," manager Mike Matheny said after his club's 7-3 win vs. the Reds. "He continues to put together tough at-bats."
Said Jay of his recent production: "I don't look at that. I'm just trying to help the team win games."
A table-setter atop the lineup for most of his career, Jay has emerged a run-producer while batting lower in the order this season. He returned to the two-hole on Wednesday, though that move was dictated primarily by Kolten Wong's absence and was one that Matheny suggested would be short-term.
"We needed someone in that spot. With Jon's ability to get on base, it fits," Matheny said of the lineup shuffle. "There's conversations that we've had about whether [having Jay hit second] would be a better fit right now, but if it didn't look like our offense was doing a nice job of clicking, it would be a greater discussion."
Lackey gives Neshek Ruth-signed ball for No. 41
ST. LOUIS -- Number swapping has long fostered a bartering system inside Major League clubhouses, where the veteran who arrives seeking to snag his longtime jersey number offers some reward to the player who is asked to give it up.
Mike Matheny briefly turned over his No. 22 to Will Clark in 2000, earning himself a compound bow in the transaction. Several players procure a designer watch or other item of wear from the deal. And then there is Pat Neshek, who went home with a Babe Ruth autographed baseball.
Neshek, an avid baseball card and memorabilia collector, grudgingly passed his No. 41 to John Lackey when the veteran right-hander was acquired from Boston in a Trade Deadline deal. He had no longtime attachment to the number, but it did hold significance as being the number he donned for his first All-Star Game. His mother was so upset with him that she hung up the phone when he informed her of the jersey trade.
Lackey had worn No. 41 in 11 of his 12 Major League seasons, the lone exception being in 2010, when Victor Martinez wore it in his last year with the Red Sox.
Lackey planned to present Neshek with a watch as a gesture of gratitude. However, when Neshek heard of those plans, he mentioned to his new teammate that he would prefer something that could go into his extensive memorabilia collection. He first considered a baseball card, then settled on a Babe Ruth ball that he had been eyeing for some time.
He received the ball in the mail this week, showing it off to awestruck teammates in the clubhouse.
"It's pretty awesome," Neshek said. "It's something I've always wanted. It's the best autograph I have in my collection. Man, what a gift."
Before finalizing the purchase, Neshek had a friend authenticate the baseball, which features a signature with Babe in quotation marks. That, Neshek explained, is an indication that it was signed when Ruth was still playing, likely around 1926.
Neshek told Lackey he would help cover part of the cost, an offer that Lackey declined. While Lackey was prepared to spend about $10,000 on a Breitling watch for Neshek, this gift went for more than two times that amount.
"I think he was really happy with it, and I appreciate him giving up the number with him having such a great year," Lackey said. "I wanted to do something cool for him."
Other teammates have since joked with Lackey that they, too, would gladly exchange their number with him.
For Neshek, the autograph instantly became the best in his collection, topping the Napoleon Bonaparte-signed battle plans that Neshek had previously procured. It also has helped him grow content with his new number, 37.
"You know what? I've gotten a lot of strikeouts since with No. 37, and things have been going pretty well," Neshek said. "It was a great trade."
The Cardinals facilitated another number swap on Wednesday, as A.J. Pierzynski took No. 12 from Greg Garcia, who was recalled by the club on Tuesday. Garcia is now wearing No. 35, the number Pierzynski was assigned when he signed with the club in July.
It is not known what, if anything, extra Garcia will receive in return.
Cards alter rotation so Waino faces Bucs, Crew
ST. LOUIS -- The Cardinals will use Thursday's off-day to manipulate their rotation and maximize their use of ace Adam Wainwright down the stretch.
Rather than have Shelby Miller start the team's first game in Philadelphia on Friday, Wainwright will handle the series opener and Miller will go on Saturday. That will keep Wainwright, who last pitched Sunday, on regular rest and sets him up to pitch in the team's two remaining series against the Pirates and each of the two series against the first-place Brewers.
Had Wainwright remained on turn, he would have missed an opportunity to pitch during the Cardinals' early-September visit to Milwaukee.
"We like seeing him out there," manager Mike Matheny said. "We've adjusted his workouts accordingly, and the same thing with Shelby."
After Thursday, the Cardinals will have three more off-days before the regular season concludes and can again tweak their rotation if desired. Wainwright, who won his 15th game in his last start, ranks third in the National League in ERA (2.40) and innings pitched (176).
Peralta sets sights on 20-homer season
ST. LOUIS -- Having etched his name into the franchise record books with his 17th home run as a shortstop on Tuesday night, Jhonny Peralta has his sights now set on the next milestone: 20.
Any additional home runs Peralta hits this season will further distance himself as the single-season shortstop home run leader for this storied franchise. Peralta has hit 20 homers in a season four times, most recently in 2011. His highest single-season total is 24, reached in '05.
"I don't try to go in the field and try to hit a home run," Peralta said. "Whatever happens in the game is going to happen. I try to do the best for the team. If I hit 20 or more, it would be really good."
Currently, Peralta is the only Cardinals player on pace to have a 20-homer season. Matt Adams and Matt Holliday rank second on the team with 12 home runs. No one else has more than nine.
Peralta has hit seven of his homers (including his last three) at Busch Stadium, where he feels has been more difficult to go deep than Comerica Park, his home park the previous four years. His longest stretch without a homer this year has been 22 days.
"The history is really good for the St. Louis Cardinals," Peralta said. "People pay a lot of attention to everything, the record. For me to be [first in home runs for shortstops], I feel really proud about that and more for this organization."
• For the first time since undergoing surgery to repair a ligament tear in his right thumb, Yadier Molina took light swings in the batting cage on Wednesday. He also took the field to do some throwing with a less-restrictive cast. Manager Mike Matheny described the ball as "jumping out of his hand." Matheny said the Cardinals had still not determined whether Molina would accompany them on this road trip or remain in St. Louis for rehab.
• Michael Wacha (right shoulder stress reaction) threw a bullpen session, as scheduled, on Wednesday afternoon. It marked the third time Wacha has taken the mound since being cleared for this next step in the rehab process.
• After delivering key RBI doubles in the first two games of the series, Daniel Descalso earned a spot in the starting lineup for just the third time since July 6. Descalso, 7-for-20 this month, started in place of Kolten Wong at second base. With Wong, the team's usual two-hole hitter on the bench, Jon Jay moved up to bat second in the order.
• Reliever David Aardsma was activated off the disabled list on Wednesday and added back to the Triple-A roster. Aardsma missed 50 games after going on the DL on June 17. He recently made two rehab appearances with the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League affiliate and allowed one run on three hits while striking out two in two innings.
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, By Gosh, It's Langosch, and follow her on Twitter @LangoschMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.