Matt Adams is in the best physical shape of his career this spring and mentally has accepted fact he will likely be a backup player.
By Rob Rains
JUPITER, Fla. – As Matt Carpenter returned to the Cardinals’ lineup for Friday’s game against the Mets in Port St. Lucie, it was almost symbolic that Matt Adams was back in Jupiter, working with the few extra players who did not make the trip.
The off-season decision to move Carpenter to first base has forced Adams into a backup role. It’s one, at least for the record, that Adams said he is fine fulfilling.
At the moment, he really has few other options – as long as he is on the Cardinals.
“To me if I let that get in my head it’s just a distraction,” Adams said. “Whatever lineup they decide to run out there, that’s their decision. I’m happy with whatever role I bring to the team.
“I feel like this is the best mindset I’ve had coming into the spring and I’m pretty happy with that.”
Adams came to camp last month in the best physical shape of his career, having dropped 30 pounds and toned up his body through a rigorous off-season training and nutrition program.
“This is the best I’ve ever felt,” he said. “This off-season was huge for me and I think it was a big lifestyle change.”
When he started the exhibition schedule going 0-for-12, with seven strikeouts, there were some who likely wondered if that physical change had done damage to his baseball ability, but he has quieted that talk lately.
Since that start, Adams has gone 8-for-18 and is tied for the team lead with three home runs.
“I didn’t freak out when I had the slow start,” Adams said. “I trusted what I was working on, made a few minor adjustments to my setup and where my hands were. After that I’ve felt I’ve seen the ball well and my timing seems to be pretty solid.”
Now comes the mental challenge of accepting the backup role, which barring any unforeseen developments, seems to be how Adams will be utilized this season.
Adams trusts that he will be able to contribute to the Cardinals this season, even if it means playing on a more limited basis than he has in the past.
“I definitely want to be out there starting,” Adams said, “but I have an opportunity to be part of this club and this club has a lot of great things ahead of it and whatever my role is I’m going to be happy to do that, and ready for that.
“I feel like I’ve always been brought up to control the things you can control and let everything else fall into place. Take care of myself, make sure my body is where it needs to be health wise and as long as I show up every day ready to work, everything will be OK.”
Adams, now 28 and with four years in the majors, admits there were points earlier in his career where he might be reacting differently to his changed status. He hit 16 homers in just 297 at-bats last year, so it isn’t hard to do the math and figure out if he got 500 at-bats in a season, he likely could hit 30 or more homers.
“My first couple of years I thought that, but now I don’t let those thoughts kind of creep in because it gets me off course,” Adams said. “For the most part I just have to be ready when my name is called. I just want to be mentally prepared and physically prepared to go out and help the team.”
Adams has also had to watch outfielder Jose Martinez get a lot of repetitions at first this spring, which could cut even more into whatever playing time is available behind Carpenter in the regular season. Martinez has hit well enough to likely wrap up a spot on the 25-man roster.
“That’s all white noise,” Adams said. “I could let it be a distraction to me or I cannot think too much about it, and I think I’ve done a pretty good job of that. I’ve surrounded myself with people who have good mindsets, my friends on the team and people I’ve worked with in the off-season have helped me, but it’s an area I can still improve on.”
Adams knows there will be a point in the not-too-distant future when he will have more control of his situation. He can become a free agent at the end of 2018.
“When that time comes I’ll think about that,” Adams said. “Up to that point I’m going to do what the team asks me to do and be ready every day.”
Follow Rob Rains on Twitter @RobRains