Rookie DeJong continues to reach new heights

Rookie DeJong continues to reach new heights

ST. LOUIS -- In Paul DeJong's first Major League at-bat on May 28, he hit a home run.

Sixty-three games and 243 at-bats later, DeJong has added 16 more homers to his Cardinals' resume and now leads the team, including what proved to be a game-deciding solo shot in the seventh inning of Saturday's 6-5 win over the Braves.

He's now tied with five other Cardinals -- including the player he has replaced at shortstop, Aledmys Diaz -- for the seventh-most home runs by a rookie in Cardinals history. In addition, his home runs have often come when the team needs them most; six have been hit in the seventh inning or later.

"I knew I was a home-run hitter," DeJong said. "I figured I was going to be up there [in home runs] by the end of the year. But really, it's about wins, and if I can help my team win by hitting homers, I'm going to keep doing it."

The shortstop is slashing .291/.320/.566. Entering Saturday, DeJong's 16 home runs in his first 63 games were second only to future Hall of Famer Albert Pujols' 20 in the same number of games in 2001.

During the team's current eight-game winning streak, DeJong 's ability and consistency have played a pivotal role. He has at least one hit in all but one of those games, with three home runs and nine RBIs over that stretch.

"He just continues to impress us every day offensively, defensively," manager Mike Matheny said. "Paul's a good player. He's constantly learning and trying to figure out what they're going to do next. Making great adjustments from at-bat to at-bat. He's staying strong.

"We've played him a lot, and he keeps showing up ready to go. It's a lot on a young player if they allow it to be. This kid, his mindset is, 'I'm going to go out, and I've got a great opportunity to go play for the St. Louis Cardinals today,' and he's playing his game."

Combined with the 13 homers he hit in 48 games with Triple-A Memphis, DeJong has 30 home runs this season, which would put him in the top 10 in the Major Leagues today if they had all been hit with the Cardinals. With Saturday's mark, the rookie can now cross one goal off his to-do list.

"I was looking for [30] to start the year, and now that I've hit it, it's on to the next one" DeJong said. "I don't really have a particular number. Last year it was 20, this year it's 30. We'll just keep going."

Part of what has allowed DeJong to hit his goals and make such a difference is the trust and confidence he has gained playing for a playoff-contending team.

"I feel great up there right now, but it's a constant battle," DeJong said. "It's not something I can just go out there and expect to do without preparation. Just trusting in what I do before the game and trusting my ability every day, and that's going to get me where I need to go."

Alaina Getzenberg is a reporter for MLB.com based in St. Louis. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.