ST. LOUIS -- Dexter Fowler was signed to a five-year, $82.5 million contract in the offseason to play center field and lead off for the St. Louis Cardinals.
As the 2017 season approaches the final turn on its way for home, Fowler is now the team's cleanup hitter after dealing with two trips to the disabled list. The inability of teammate Matt Carpenter to be productive in any spot besides leadoff has also forced Fowler into different spots in the lineup.
But if a just-completed four-game series with the Kansas City Royals was any indication, it appears Fowler is adapting just fine to his new role. He went 6-for-13 with six walks and five extra-base hits, including a grand slam Thursday night that led St. Louis to an 8-6 victory and a four-game sweep of the I-70 interleague set.
He'll be the Atlanta Braves' problem this weekend, beginning with Friday night's series opener in Busch Stadium.
"He came in here thinking he was going to be hitting in the leadoff spot all season," manager Mike Matheny said of Fowler. "He's one of the guys who has bought into not putting any particular ownership in any one spot.
"What a shot in the arm he's been since he came back. He's looking good."
In addition to jacking 15 homers in only 303 at-bats, only two off his career high of 17 set in 2015 with the Chicago Cubs, Fowler has exhibited his normal patience. He has 46 walks, including free passes in eight straight games to tie a National League season high set by Carpenter in May.
"It's awesome," Fowler said of his walk streak. "I'm just trying to take good at-bats."
Everyone in a Cardinals uniform has taken good at-bats during a six-game winning streak that's thrust them into second place in the National League Central, one game behind the Cubs. St. Louis (59-56) has scored 54 runs in the stretch, including 50 in the last five games.
Tasked with slowing down the Cardinals' attack is Atlanta right-hander Mike Foltynewicz (10-6, 3.94 ERA), a former first-round pick of Houston who has shown signs of being a front-line pitcher this year.
The hard-throwing Foltynewicz whiffed a career-high 11 batters in his last start Saturday night, eight of them on fastballs, as he stifled Miami in a 7-2 victory. He allowed one run and four hits in 6 1/3 innings, walking none in a 99-pitch effort.
He is 1-1 with a 7.20 ERA in two career starts versus St. Louis, though, including a 10-0 loss May 5 in which he allowed seven runs in four innings.
"He's not letting one little pitch or one that doesn't go his way affect him the whole start," Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman said. "It's been big for us and big for him. He's changing his game right now."
The Braves(51-61) could use another powerful outing from Foltynewicz. They have lost three straight, including a 3-2 verdict Wednesday night against a Philadelphia team that has beaten them 11 of 13 games this year.
Adam Wainwright (11-5, 5.00 ERA) gets the call for St. Louis, hoping for more consistency in his second start after a stint on the 10-day disabled list. Wainwright lasted only three innings and 87 pitches in the Cardinals' 13-4 victory at Cincinnati, giving up three runs and throwing a whopping 45 pitches in the first inning.
A former first-round pick of the Braves, Wainwright is 8-3 with a 3.38 ERA in 17 games (12 starts) against them.