It's long been said that the beginning of the season is tougher on hitters than pitchers. That certainly was the case for Oscar Taveras this month, but for slightly different reasons.
The Cardinals' top prospect missed Triple-A Memphis' first four games when he traveled to his native Dominican Republic to deal with a death in the family. He did not make his Pacific Coast League debut until Monday and didn't make his first start until two days later.
It didn't take him very long to get back up to speed.
Taveras went 4-for-5 with a double and two runs scored in his second start of the season Friday night, leading the Redbirds to a 10-6 triumph over the Oklahoma City RedHawks.
"It's kinda cool getting to watch him do this," Memphis manager Ron "Pop" Warner said. "Obviously, he had to go down there and deal with some family matters. And because of that, he hasn't seen much pitching outside of one game. But tonight he looked like he was in midseason form the way he was using the whole field."
The left-handed-hitting Taveras, who was 2-for-7 since rejoining the team, singled to left field in the first inning and scored ahead of Brock Peterson's home run. He doubled in the fourth -- again going the opposite way -- before singling to right in the sixth and beating out an infield hit in the eighth.
Friday marked the 20-year-old outfielder's first four-hit game since July 12 for Double-A Springfield. He had three games with four hits or more for the Cardinals' Texas League affiliate, including a 5-for-5 performance on June 4 against Corpus Christi. This latest performance marks the 11th time he's accrued at least four hits in a game since signing with St. Louis in November 2008.
Friday's may have been the most remarkable of all, given Taveras' state a week earlier.
"He seemed to come back in pretty good spirits," Warner said. "I think being with his family for something like that really helped him. Still, anytime you miss at-bats to start the season, it's tough to get back into the swing of things and get back going again. But after tonight, it looked like it wasn't as tough on him."
Then again, such a performance shouldn't be such a surprise from MLB.com's No. 3 overall prospect, even if it came at his highest level yet.
Taveras led the Texas League in average (.321), doubles (37), extra-base hits (67) and total bases (273) in 124 games last season. He also established career highs with 23 homers and 94 RBIs, was named the circuit's MVP award and participated in the All-Star Futures Game.
Taveras earned a non-roster invitation to Major League Spring Training, where he batted .289 with a .746 OPS, two homers and 10 RBIs in 24 Grapefruit League games before being sent to Memphis for what is probably his final seasoning.
"I got to see him in big league camp this spring and every time he gets in the box, he's going to fight you to the end," Warner said. "Once he gets into those legs and gets the hips and arms going, he's going to battle you. He's really tough to pitch to, no matter who you are."
Although he was a long shot to make the big league roster out of camp, Taveras could be the first Redbirds outfielder to make the jump this season, should an injury or other roster move open a starting spot. Until then, his manager will remain mum, choosing to sit back and enjoy the ride in the PCL, however brief that may be.
"That stuff's not for me to say," Warner said. "All I'll say is that he's on track to where he needs to be right now. He's going to have a big year here for us. I'll leave it up to the big club to decide just when it's time for him to make the move up to the Majors."
Third baseman Jermaine Curtis tripled, doubled, drove in two runs and scored twice for Memphis. Designated hitter Jamie Romak chipped in three hits, an RBI and a run scored.
Marc Krauss homered and drove in three runs for the RedHawks.