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Kolten Wong no longer struggling to live up to contract

ST. LOUIS – Kolten Wong isn’t the first player to struggle right after he got paid.

The St. Louis Cardinals did what they often do -- they locked up one of their homegrown players at what they figured would eventually be a discount. Wong did what many other emerging Cardinals players have done: He exchanged some likely future earnings for financial security in the present. The result was a five-year, $25.5 million extension the sides worked out in spring training.

Then, Wong started off by batting .210 with a .550 OPS -- and committing four errors -- in his first 29 games. The contract wasn’t looking like a great expenditure of the team’s resources and it was hammering at Wong’s conscience.

“It was more pressure on myself,” Wong said, “knowing these guys are paying me this much money to be here and they want me to be here and I’m not doing what I need to do, instead of understanding my teammates and the coaches see me out there every single day working as hard as I can.”

Wong said he has insulated himself from fan criticism on social media. His talent was never in question and the new attitude seems to have freed up his game. He is batting .412 with two triples during his modest five-game hitting streak. More impressive, given the Cardinals’ sloppy defense, he is riding a 16-game errorless streak, over which he has fielded 52 chances cleanly. Manager Mike Matheny rewarded Wong, a left-handed batter who sits against some left-handers, with a start against lefty Chris Rusin on Wednesday night.

“Everything we’re seeing is going in a good direction, so we’ll try to keep him in a good spot,” Matheny said.

The Cardinals are anxiously awaiting the return from injury of Jhonny Peralta, who is a steadying influence on the team, but the shortstop’s return -- expected as soon as later this month -- will cost other infielders playing time. If the team moves shortstop Aledmys Diaz to second base, Wong would be the odd man out.

“I can’t control that. Whatever they choose, that’s going to be their choice,” Wong said. “I’ll be ready regardless of what they want to do, and hey, I’m still part of this team. If that’s the case, I’ll be as good a teammate as I can and I’ll do what I can do to help this team win. “