The Cardinals announced Tuesday that center fielder Harrison Bader is headed to the 10-day injured list after being diagnosed with a hairline fracture on one of his ribs. Bader exited last night’s game in the third inning after very nearly making an outstanding diving catch on a sinking liner off the bat of Nick Madrigal (video link). However, he ultimately landed with his ribcage on the baseball after it kicked off the heel of his glove. The Cardinals have recalled first baseman/outfielder John Nogowski to take his spot on the active roster.
Bader’s placement on the IL comes at a time when the Cardinals’ outfield depth is already compromised. Tyler O’Neill is on the shelf with a fractured finger at the moment, while Triple-A outfielders Austin Dean and Scott Hurst were both recently placed on the injured list. That slate of injuries likely shifts Dylan Carlson over to center field, with a combination of Justin Williams, Lane Thomas and Nogowski seeing action in the corners.
This is the second IL stint already on the young season for Bader, who opened the season on the shelf due to a forearm injury. He’s gotten out to a .219/.301/.411 start to his season through 83 plate appearances. It’s the same blend of low batting average and decent power we’ve seen from Hader in recent years, but with a greatly reduced strikeout rate standing out as a key difference. Bader entered the 2021 season with a career 29.1 percent punchout rate, but he’s fanned just 13 times in his 83 trips (15.7 percent).
Bader’s contact rate has also improved in 2021, while both his swinging-strike rate and called-strike rate have declined. At least through his first 22 games, he’s looked to have a better recognition of the strike zone and given some inklings that the drop in strikeouts is legitimate. Should that prove to be the case, it’s quite likely his overall batting line will tick up. He’s currently being plagued by a .211 average on balls in play that is nearly 100 points lower than his career mark. He’s also making less hard contact than in recent seasons, so it’s not all good news, but the generally improved approach is certainly still of note.