CHICAGO – The St. Louis Cardinals, still in last place in the National League, have quite a bit of work ahead if they hope to salvage the season. Lately, one unlikely source is rising to the challenge.

Paul DeJong, the team’s longest-tenured position player, returned from the injured list in late-April. Quietly, the former All-Star is regaining form and reemerging as a force in the Cardinals lineup.

On Wednesday, DeJong strung together his sixth multi-hit in 13 games this season. One night before, he delivered a late tiebreaking home run to pave the way to a Cardinals series win over the division-rival Chicago Cubs.

“Happy to be back. I’m thankful to be here, be wearing this uniform, and happy to be around these guys and the staff,” said DeJong via Bally Sports Midwest after Tuesday’s win. “We have a great organization, and it’s just a lot of fun every day to come play here.”

DeJong lost his place as starting shortstop last season, a campaign riddled with prolonged struggles and an unexpected option to the minor leagues. However, the 29-year-old committed to some hitting adjustments in the offseason, mostly in timing and balance, that could help his cause at redemption.

“That’s just a testament to the things I’ve done in the offseason [and] the work I’ve done with our hitting coaches,” said DeJong in another interview on his early-season turnaround with Bally Sports Midwest. “That confidence and trust in what I’ve done before the game, that preparation, going out there and letting the game dictate what happens.”

In less than three weeks worth of games, DeJong is currently hitting .364 with three home runs, 6 RBI and 7 runs scored. The results have paved the way to more opportunities at shortstop too. DeJong has started four consecutive games and nearly two-thirds of possible games at shortstop since his return from injury.

DeJong, raised in the northside Chicago suburb Antioch for several years, says it’s exciting to deliver at Wrigley Field. His home run was Tuesday was his 13th to come in the ninth inning or a later stage in the ballgame. Of those 13 home runs, he’s accomplished that six times at Wrigley Field.

“I’m just thankful to have those opportunities here,” said DeJong. “There’s always been great games. The competition is something that brings the best in all of us out. I’m thankful to be up in those situations. You got to embrace those things as a competitor.”

DeJong is in the final season of a 6-year, $26 million contract he signed in 2018. That contract includes club options for 2024 and 2025.