ST. LOUIS -- A combination of circumstances and success has led manager Mike Matheny to push his starting pitchers deeper into games than he did during the first two weeks of last season. A 100-pitch mark that was rarely touched by Cardinals starters last April is now being surpassed with regularity.
A year later, St. Louis starters have thrown over 100 pitches in seven of the team's first 11 games. In comparison, the starters hit that total only once in the first 14 games of the 2012 season. It took 30 games for the team to total seven 100-pitch starts.
There are a handful of reasons for the difference in early-season durability. A longer Spring Training schedule allowed for the starters to all build their pitch counts high enough to where throwing 100 pitches the first week of the season was not a stretch.
Also, twice Matheny has wanted to give his starter the chance to finish off a shutout, which both Jake Westbrook (111 pitches on Wednesday) and Adam Wainwright (115 pitches on Saturday) successfully did. Westbrook's 116-pitch season debut, on the other hand, was prompted by a need to rest a wearied bullpen.
"Last year, we started them slower," Matheny said. "We weren't pushing them over 100 pitches every game. That's not necessarily the goal going in here either. But we have to take each game on an individual basis. You just never know as a pitcher when your last chance will be to get that last out in a shutout. And a lot of these guys have earned that right."
Wainwright has eclipsed the 100-pitch mark in all three of his starts. He threw 115 pitches in his last start, a total he surpassed in only one of his 32 starts last year. Westbrook went all of 2012 without ever throwing as many pitches in an outing as he did on April 5 against the Giants. He added afterward that he felt stronger toward the end of the start than he did in the early innings.
Molina receives Gold, Platinum Gloves on Sunday
ST. LOUIS -- As he stood in front of his locker early Saturday evening, ruminating over one of the best starts of his career, Adam Wainwright didn't need to be asked about the assistance he received behind the plate from Yadier Molina. Unsolicited, Wainwright brought up the topic.
"Yadier Molina -- what can you say?" Wainwright said. "He's the best."
On Sunday, Molina was recognized for being just that. Just before he started his 12th straight game to open the season, Molina was presented with his fifth consecutive Rawlings Gold Glove and his second straight Platinum Glove. The latter is awarded to the player voted as the best defensively, at any position, in the league.
Sitting on the flatbed of a truck, the two awards were driven around the Busch Stadium field before being presented to the Cardinals' catcher.
"I get to be the beneficiary of him doing so many different things that there really aren't statistics for -- the ability to be an extra coach out there, an extra set of eyes, watching how he changes game plans when necessary," said Cardinals manager Mike Matheny, himself a four-time Gold Glove catcher. "How he monitors this staff is just off the charts. He throws better than anybody in the league. He blocks the ball and moves around behind the plate. All of it. It's a complete package. And when you start throwing in offense, it's pretty rare."
Molina ranks first among active National League catchers with 613 assists and a caught-stealing percentage of 44.6. He has started at least 130 games in each of the last four seasons, and has a career catcher's ERA of 3.78.
Cards' bullpen having difficulty getting work
ST. LOUIS -- The Cardinals' starting rotation has been the gold standard in the league so far this season, as they have posted a National League-best 1.99 ERA and won a league-most seven games. The five-man unit is averaging 6 2/3 innings per start, also the highest average in the NL.
The residual effect, though, has been inconsistent work for several members of the Cardinals' bullpen. The club's relievers aren't complaining, but they are having to adjust their routines to adapt to the sporadic usage.
"It's different. It's my first time going through it," said Joe Kelly, a starter-turned-reliever who last pitched on April 7. "Right now, our starters are [thriving], so it's great. That means we're doing well as a team. It gives guys like us rest. Everyone in the bullpen is happy right now."
Kelly said he threw off the bullpen mound on Wednesday, and again Saturday, in order to keep his arm loose.
"You have to prepare the same way every day," he said, "and I'm always ready for the call."
The downtime has been even longer for Fernando Salas, whose last appearance came on April 6. Neither Marc Rzepczynski nor Randy Choate have pitched since Monday. Edward Mujica has pitched only once in the last six games.
"They're getting work [on the side]," manager Mike Matheny said. "It's just not the same kind of work as being in a game. Those times are nice, because it means the starters are going deep. We're going to go through some spurts where we're just beating them up, too. You try not to overreact one way or another [in forcing ways to get them in a game]. We just try to react in the direction that's going to give us the best chance to win that night."
• Jason Motte (right elbow strain) will not join the team on its upcoming three-city road trip. The Cardinals requested Motte's presence on the first road trip of the season because of the assistance he could offer off the field, but by remaining in St. Louis this time, Motte will be able to continue his rehab work with team physical therapist Adam Olsen.
• Though he has been ruled out for the season, right-hander Chris Carpenter has spent time visiting with teammates in the Cardinals' clubhouse each of the last two days. Carpenter, after announcing that he had to stop throwing in early February due to recurring symptoms from thoracic outlet syndrome, said that he would remain a presence around the ballpark throughout the season.
• Right-hander Michael Wacha earned his first Triple-A win on Saturday with a five-inning performance for Memphis. Wacha allowed three runs (two earned), while walking one and striking out three.
• The Cardinals will face starters James McDonald, Jonathan Sanchez and A.J. Burnett in their first of three season trips to Pittsburgh. Sanchez will be just the second left-handed pitcher to start against St. Louis this year.
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, By Gosh, It's Langosch, and follow her on Twitter @LangoschMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.