‘I’ve shown who I am’: Arenado back to playing trademark defense

‘I’ve shown who I am’: Arenado back to playing trademark defense

Cardinals third baseman goes 4-for-5, hits two-run homer

5:24 AM UTC

ST. LOUIS — With defensive standards possibly as high as any player in MLB history, Cardinals superstar third baseman Nolan Arenado hated the defender he had become earlier this season when hitters repeatedly beat out his throws across the diamond because of a case of what he called “dead arm.”

Determined to get back to the levels he reached while becoming just the second player in NL/AL history to win 10 straight Gold Gloves to begin a career, Arenado worked tirelessly on various drills to regain his arm strength and get back to playing the elite level of defense to which he was accustomed.

On a night when he also hit his 25th home run of the season, Arenado made the play of the game on the defensive end when he charged a chopper off the plate, fielded the ball barehanded and unleashed a perfect throw to retire Oakland’s Jordan Diaz in the Cardinals’ 6-2 win at Busch Stadium on Tuesday night.

The spectacular play was evidence of the improvement the 32-year-old perennial All-Star has made throughout a sometimes rocky season.

“First half was not me; second half is me — that’s the best way I could describe it,” Arenado said of his defense. “First half was just bad, and I don’t know what happened. But my arm was weak. I’ve got to give credit to the trainers because I’ve been doing a throwing program with [medicine] balls and heavy balls to try and get my arm strength back, and I feel like I’ve done that. It’s finally catching up, and I can trust my arm more than I did in the first half.

“In the first half, I’d do those plays where I’d throw off my back foot and they’d beat it out. Last year, I’d get them out and then this year, I wouldn’t. So, it’s just those little adjustments I’ve had to make. But I feel like in the second half, I’ve shown who I am.”

Defensive metrics provided by Statcast back up the claims made by Arenado, who struggled both at the plate and defensively early on. In terms of outs above average, Arenado had three in March/April, but he slumped defensively in May [minus-3] and June [minus-2]. When his arm started to come around, so too did his defensive effectiveness in July [plus-2] and August [tied for an MLB-best at plus-3]. For the season, Arenado is credited with 4 outs above average — well behind NL third-base leader Ke’Bryan Hayes (11).

The result of Arenado’s progress was a web gem like the one he made on Tuesday when he covered 126 feet, needed just 0.43 seconds in exchange time and fired a 69.6 mph strike to first as he was falling away from the play, per Statcast.

“It helps when you have the greatest defensive third baseman of all time making plays like that,” said Cardinals center fielder Lars Nootbaar, who had a diving catch of his own on Tuesday.

“I don’t know if you saw the look on my face as that [Arenado] play was happening, but some of the plays that he makes are just incredible,” said starter Dakota Hudson, who improved to 4-0.

The night was also significant for Arenado for what he did at the plate. When he smashed a 395-foot home run into the left-field seats in the first inning, it gave him 25 long balls for the season. Arenado now has eight seasons with at least 25 home runs and is the 10th third baseman in NL/AL history with that many 25-homer seasons, per Elias Sports. Also, he is the seventh player in Cardinals team history with three straight 25-homer seasons, joining Chick Hafey, Johnny Mize, Stan Musial, Mark McGwire, Jim Edmonds and Albert Pujols.

Consistency, both in terms of his blast-furnace intensity and his production, matters to Arenado even though the Cardinals are likely out of the playoff chase and came into Tuesday having spent 99 of the first 135 days of this season in last place in the NL Central.

“I, obviously, take a lot of pride in [consistency], but I don’t chase those [records]. I just try to have good at-bats and hit the ball hard,” said Arenado, who took over the team lead in homers — one more than Nolan Gorman. “I’ve had a lot of help from the coaches that I’ve had. I believe that if I’m out on the field, I am going to have a chance to put up some numbers.”

Asked which felt better — his 25th homer or the barehanded grab — Arenado flashed a wry smile and leaned toward defense because of the work he’s put in as the season has worn on.

“The barehand play was sweet,” he said.

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