Post Content Cardinals News 

May 11th, 2023

This story was excerpted from John Denton’s Cardinals Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

CHICAGO — When he played at historic Wrigley Field last season for the first time, Cardinals’ utility ace Brendan Donovan paved the way for his Gold Glove award and showed off his incredible defensive versatility by making three of his finest plays … over a three-day stretch … at three different positions.

Fittingly, Donovan made two of his most clutch and athletic defensive plays of this young season in his first two games back at Wrigley. On Monday, Donovan threw a strike from left field — one that hit 90.2 mph from 292 feet, according to Statcast — to retire the speedy Nick Madrigal at the plate to keep the game tied. On Tuesday, Donovan preserved a 4-4 tie by sprinting 86 feet, laying out and making a diving catch — one that Statcast deemed to have just a 55 percent catch rate.

“I don’t know, it’s just a cool place to play,” Donovan said with a wry smile when asked why so many of his top plays have come at the 109-year-old park.

Donovan became the first rookie in the rich history of the Cardinals to win a Gold Glove in 2022 and he did so by capturing the first-ever utility award. Last season, he spent time at second base (32 games), third base (31), right field (20), left field (19), first base (16) and shortstop (seven) and committed just seven errors. Heck, he even was the DH for 16 games. This season, he’s appeared at five positions and has committed just one error.

Donovan’s defensive excellence is the focus of this week’s “Cardinals Beat” newsletter. We had him pick out his favorite defensive plays from 2022 from each of his six positions and describe them through his eyes. Here is some insight into the gems made by a player who Cardinals teammates often refer to as “Donnie Baseball”:

SECOND BASE — at Chicago, Wrigley Field, bottom of the fifth inning, score: Cardinals 9, Cubs 4

DONOVAN: “First off, great tag by [Andrew Knizner]! The ball was hit over my left shoulder and I’m running as hard as I can out to right field. I knew I had a good read on the ball and thought I could catch it, but I didn’t know if they were going to send the runner. I almost felt like an outfielder catching a ball and about to run into the wall. My thought there was catch and spin and try to get on top of [the ball] so it didn’t sail.

“Because I was going out and away from home, I thought there was a good chance he would tag there. I was just thinking: ‘Put your foot in the ground, stay on top of the ball and make a good throw!'”

SHORTSTOP — vs. San Francisco, Busch Stadium, top of the ninth inning, score: Giants 8, Cardinals 2

DONOVAN: “Honestly, the most memorable play I made at shortstop was the first one that I got hit to me and I actually made the play. But this one was pretty cool. The ball fumbled around in my glove when I dove. I would have loved to turn two there, but sometimes it’s just important to get outs and not try to do too much. I love that I was able to cut the angle and make it an easier play for myself.”

LEFT FIELD — at Chicago, Wrigley Field, bottom of the first, score: Cubs 1, Cardinals 0

DONOVAN: “So, I totally lost this ball in the lights! It’s terrifying with sun balls and balls in the lights because you really have no idea where it is. That’s kind of why I slid – if I do miss it, maybe I could trap it with my body. When you’re in the corners [outfield positions] there with night games, the lights are low there and sometimes you will just flat lose them. So, I slid there hoping I could somehow keep the ball in front of me. Shockingly, it went right in my glove. But I like the jump I got, and I got myself in the right position. That gave me a chance even if I lost it in the lights. That ball actually caught me on that play.”

RIGHT FIELD (tie) — At Chicago, Wrigley Field (ESPN’s Sunday Night Baseball), bottom of the sixth, score: Cardinals 2, Cubs 2

DONOVAN: “Curveball from [Adam Wainwright], and you go through scenarios in your head before every pitch, especially when you have runners on. I was like, ‘If this ball is hit to me, what’s my play? Tie game and they’re probably sending the runner.’ Luckily, we were able to get [Patrick] Wisdom at the plate. I tried to throw that one to the cut [off man] and that’s why it rolled home.”

RIGHT FIELD (tie) — At St. Louis, Busch Stadium, top of the 10th inning, score: Blue Jays 3, Cardinals 3

DONOVAN: “This was another play from early in the season and that’s one of my favorites because I hadn’t had as much time in right. But I like the break on the ball and the effort. Good play, Donnie.”

THIRD BASE — At Colorado, Coors Field, bottom of the second, score: Cardinals 2, Rockies 2

DONOVAN: “[Elehuris] Montero almost took my face off with that one. We were able to double up [Randal] Grichuk on that play. That was another play where the ball caught me instead of me catching it. I mean, that ball was smoked. Obviously, the first concern there is catching the ball. I noticed out of the corner of my eye he was still far off [first base]. Goldy gave me a good target and I came up firing.

“Third base is different than any other spot. Balls are coming and it’s called the hot corner for good reason. Nolan [Arenado] really helped me get better at third base. There’s just so much intent behind everything he does. Watch how active his feet are. His feet give him the hop he needs to get a good jump on the ball.”

FIRST BASE — At St. Louis, Busch Stadium, top of the ninth, score: Pirates 6, Cardinals 4

DONOVAN: “I don’t have a ton of time over there at first, so the angles are always different for me. The PFP [Pitchers Fielding Practice] makes first base tougher because you have to dive to the right and field the ball across your body. Fortunately [former Cardinals’ left-hander] T.J. [McFarland] did an awesome job of getting over to first in time.

“First base gets a bad rap, but it’s tough because you’re in every play. You have to have good footwork and know all the angles. You’re in every play, so you can’t relax.”