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03/31/12 5:16 PM ET

Change does Westbrook's body good

VIERA, Fla. -- Because Jake Westbrook won't pitch again until April 9, in Cincinnati, manager Mike Matheny gave the veteran right-hander his choice -- remain in Florida when the team breaks camp, or accompany his teammates to Miami and Milwaukee.

Westbrook chose the latter.

"They left it up to me," Westbrook said on Saturday after allowing just one run on two hits in 5 2/3 innings in the Cardinals' 6-2 victory over the Nationals at Space Coast Stadium.

"They gave me the option of facing hitters down here or an extended bullpen [session]," he added. "They said, 'Whatever you want to do.' I decided, since I was just going to throw an extended bullpen, I'd just go with the team. I'll stay on my regular schedule and throw an extended bullpen in Miami and then probably throw another in Milwaukee."

"Whatever he feels he needs to do," Matheny said. "I'm very fine with that."

Westbrook held the Nationals hitless until Chad Tracy singled with one out in the fourth and shut them out until Tracy homered with two gone in the sixth.

"[Westbrook had] just all his normal stuff, throwing strikes, throwing to the bottom of the strike zone, letting his sinker do its thing, same old stuff," Matheny said.

"I was a little erratic today with some of my pitches," Westbrook admitted, "but I was able to get back in the zone when I needed to. My changeup was just not there today. My secondary pitches were not what I wanted. I didn't have the consistency I'm looking for."

Nevertheless, he is ready for the season to begin.

"I'm probably about as confident as I've ever been going into the season," he said. "When the games start counting, you've got to amp up your focus."

Westbrook credits the 20 pounds he shed over the winter for his increased confidence.

"When you feel good about your body, you feel more confidence about what you're doing," he said. "Last year was the heaviest I've ever weighed, and I think it might have hindered me a little bit."

Westbrook went 12-9 with a 4.66 ERA last year.

"He's made a deliberate change from how he looks to how he thinks," Matheny said. "He wants to be one of the guys we have faith in. And he wanted to prove something to himself. He's done a lot of work to get himself where he is right now. And he wants to stay there."

Westbrook's spring ERA of 1.50 ranks among the best in the Grapefruit League this year. Over five starts he worked 35 innings and allowed just 12 hits.

Since joining the Cardinals at the non-waiver Trade Deadline in 2010, Westbrook has had the best ground-ball percentage (74.7 percent) of any Major League starter.

The Cardinals were 12-4 last season when Westbrook started and worked at least six innings.

New-look Cards have NL's best spring record

VIERA, Fla. -- New manager. No Albert Pujols. No matter.

At 16-8, the Cardinals -- the first team in Major League history to win the World Series and return the next season without its manager and leading homer hitter -- have the best record in the National League this spring.

How significant is that?

"Spring Training or regular season, you'll take winning over losing every time, no matter where you're doing it," rookie manager Mike Matheny said on Saturday. "I think [winning] can become a habit.

"We're competing. In game situations, you need to execute. And our guys are executing on a pretty consistent basis. My goal is to get the guys ready. And I think most of the guys are ready. We've got quite a few guys who are pretty ready.

"You have to work without overworking. It's hard to prepare for that long season ahead. You've just got to get out there and get the work done. And we've got the work done."

Hot spring nets Carpenter spot on April roster

VIERA, Fla. -- For the second year in a row, Matt Carpenter is enjoying an eye-opening spring. This time, however, it has earned him a place on the Opening Day roster.

Carpenter, who started at third base against the Nationals' Stephen Strasburg on Saturday, is among the Grapefruit League leaders in batting average (.377), slugging percentage (.720), runs scored (12), doubles (nine) and on-base percentage (.446).

Over the winter, manager Mike Matheny advised Carpenter that he would enhance his chances of making the team if he reported to camp ready to play the corner positions in the outfield as well as the infield.

Carpenter heeded those words of advice. As a result, for the first time in his career, he will begin the season in the Major Leagues.

Carpenter has two home runs, 10 RBIs and 12 extra-base hits to his credit this spring. Batting coach Mark McGwire has worked with Carpenter to get him to use his legs more in his swing.

His added versatility and increased power have not gone unnoticed.

"He's driving the ball a little bit more," Matheny said, "and his defense has made some strides forward. All in all, he's improved."

Worth noting

• Manager Mike Matheny hinted on Saturday that he may have made up his mind about his regular-season batting order, but he isn't tipping his hand.

"We've got plenty of options," Matheny said.

• Shortstop Rafael Furcal's spring struggles continued on Saturday, as he went hitless in three at-bats, dropping his average to .180.

Even so, "Raffy's our shortstop," Matheny said after the game.

The 34-year-old infielder, who was an integral part of the Cardinals' stretch run last year, has been on the disabled list four times in the past two seasons.

• The versatile Daniel Descalso, batting eighth and playing second base on Saturday, drove in four runs with a pair of two-run doubles. His left-handed-hitting presence in the lineup is one of the "options" Matheny is weighing as he ponders possible batting orders.

"He had a big day against some tough pitching," Matheny said.

• Backup catcher Tony Cruz celebrated Friday's announcement that he had made the team with three singles against the Nationals on Saturday, and outfielder Erik Komatsu went 1-for-4 with an RBI and scored twice.

Jim Hawkins is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.