The notion that Paul Dejong might be derailed or even delayed by a sophomore slump seemed to be swatted down through his first four games.

The Cardinals shortstop smacked seven hits through his first 15 at-bats, and three of those hits exited either Citi Field or Miller Park.

Forget sophomore slump. I found myself wondering why DeJong was hitting seventh. Move him up!

Then pitchers started sitting him down. And once again the reminder arrived.

A long season has just lifted off.

And DeJong, 24, is in for a testing 2018.

Through 16 games DeJong is averaging .246 with a .295 on-base percentage and a .474 slugging percentage.

Nothing to panic about there.

It will be very hard for DeJong to match his averages from one season ago, when he joined the team from Memphis and mashed his way to a .285 average, .325 OBP and impressive .532 slugging percentages.

What tilts the head and raises the eyebrows are the strikeouts.

He’s up to 25 in 57 at-bats. And he’s walked just three times. Not good

DeJong currently holds a 41 percent strikeout rate, up from his 28 percent last season. Among Cardinals with more than 20 at-bats, DeJong’s strikeout rate is the worst. By a country mile. For comparison, Matt Carpenter’s 28.8 percent K rate comes in second.

Zoom out. As of Tuesday morning, only six players in the majors have more strikeouts than DeJong. But the names of some of these sluggers should ease concerns about the shortstop. Giancarlo Stanton has 27 strikeouts. Yoenis Cespedes, 26. Same (26) for Trevor Story. No player in this known trio has more homers than DeJong. No player in this known trio has as few walks as DeJong, either.

DeJong’s play at shortstop has been solid, for the most part, and he has made strides there since last season. But let’s not confuse things. He’s here to hit. And when you smack 25 homers and 52 extra-base hits in 108 games as a rookie, fans and the front office should be able to live with higher-than-average strikeouts and relatively few walks. Shooters shoot. Sluggers swing.

But DeJong is no longer a rookie surprise. Opposing pitchers have a scouting report. They are going to attack him where he has shown signs of weakness. You can even find some encouraging signs that he’s trying to counter pitchers’ adjustments with some adjustments of his own.

DeJong is actually seeing more pitches per plate appearance (4.15 compared to 3.97 last season), swinging at the first pitch less often (11.5 percent compared to 28.1 percent last season) and taking more pitches overall (60.1 percent compared to 48.4 percent). In fact, his overall swing percentage has dropped, from 51.6 percent last season to 39.9 percent this season. He’s swinging at fewer pitches outside the strike zone (28.1 percent compared to 33.6 percent last season). He’s also swinging at fewer pitches inside the strike zone (60.2 percent compared to 72.3 percent).

These can be interpreted as encouraging signs of a more-patient approach from a strikeout-prone slugger.

The problem, so far, seems to be that DeJong’s more carefully selected swings aren’t landing.

DeJong’s percentage of swings and misses has jumped up from 27.9 percent last season to 43.6 percent. His contact percentage has dipped, from 74.2 percent to 57.4 percent. His contact rate on percentage of pitches inside the strike zone has decreased, from 46.5 percent to 36.8 percent.

Pitchers are not exactly flummoxing DeJong with tricky breaking pitches. They’re pumping fastballs by him, low and high, and he’s having hard time with them.

He’s getting pitches to hit. He’s just missing them.

It’s early. It’s cold. It’s too early to panic about DeJong.

If he could not catch up to a fastball, he would not be where he is now.

He needs to get back to landing his powerful swing on pitches that would be called strikes. And taking a few walks here or there wouldn’t hurt.

Cardinals roster


Breaking news, features and the latest talk about the St. Louis Cardinals