St. Louis Cardinals get timeline on Tyler O’Neill’s return

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MILWAUKEE, WISCONSIN – MAY 12: Tyler O’Neill #27 of the St. Louis Cardinals hits a solo home run during the seventh inning against the Milwaukee Brewers at American Family Field on May 12, 2021 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)

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When the St. Louis Cardinals placed Tyler O’Neill on the injured list, they knew he wasn’t likely to miss much time. They just wanted to be cautious with the outfielder who has emerged as one of their most important offensive pieces not named Nolan Arenado or Paul Goldschmidt.

O’Neill is getting close to returning, as he is set to start swinging a bat again on Saturday, testing his grip strength after fracturing a finger in San Diego, according to Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. O’Neill will start wearing a protective mitten on the basepaths now, he said, to prevent the freak injury from happening again.

If all goes well, and O’Neill can grip the bat with no problem, it would appear likely he heads to the minors for a brief rehab appearance to test that strength in games. But it’s an encouraging update on O’Neill, who appears primed to hit 25-plus homers on the year if he stays healthy.

The Cardinals couldn’t have asked for much more entering the season. But they bet on their internal options, especially O’Neill, to step up and produce at a high level. It’s why they didn’t pursue a top outfielder in free agency or trade and they’ve been rewarded for that patience with the strong starts for O’Neill and Dylan Carlson.

On the season, O’Neill is hitting .250/.290/.530 with eight home runs and 18 RBI. And when he returns, which the Cardinals hope is sooner than later, he should immediately step in as a key cog offensively while providing Gold Glove defense in the outfield.

His presence will only help the Cardinals not only compete for a division title, but with the Dodgers and Padres in the National League. But a 9-4 loss to the Cubs underscored that the Cardinals will need O’Neill back healthy if they hope to hold — and eventually extend — their division lead.

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