04/07/2013 9:29 PM ET
Kozma kicks off season with strong showing
By Alex Espinoza / Special to MLB.com
SAN FRANCISCO -- Since he won the starting job in Spring Training, Pete Kozma has looked the part of everyday player.
Kozma put together a three-hit effort Saturday and added a hit and two RBIs on Sunday to boost his season average to .333 (8-for-24) through six games. Filling in for the injured Rafael Furcal has been no small task, but Cardinals manager Mike Matheny wants to treat Kozma's solid start as business as usual.
"We're trying to make everybody leave him alone and not make a big deal about it," Matheny said. "We like what we've seen and what we saw last year. I told him this, too: 'This is the only guy I know. So just keep doing what you do.'"
Kozma finished off the 2012 regular season batting .333 in 26 games after Furcal went down with an arm injury. He had two game-winning RBIs in the National League Division Series clincher against Washington.
The middle infield looked a bit different Sunday, as Kozma's double-play partner David Descalso was replaced by Matt Carpenter at second base. Carpenter entered Sunday's contest 4-for-4 against Giants starter Matt Cain in his career, while Matheny also touted his defensive versatility.
"It's been a week since he's been there," Matheny said. "It's going to be another challenge, but he's been working in between. I know he's been starting at third, but he's anxious to go back out there and show all the work he's put into it."
Kozma rapped an RBI single in the Cardinals' nine-run fourth inning Sunday, while Carpenter had a pair of singles in the frame, driving in a run with his second at-bat of the inning, before adding an RBI double in the eighth.
Matheny gives Holliday, Descalso day of rest
SAN FRANCISCO -- As a player, Mike Matheny used to argue with his managers against off-days. Now he has to defend them.
The St. Louis skipper is taking a long-term approach to his lineups in 2013, planning to rest some of his big bats early in the season to keep them fresh into September. For Sunday's series finale against the Giants, slugger Matt Holliday was a healthy scratch from the lineup.
"I've been very clear with the guys and none of them like the message," Matheny said. "The message is: Your turn is going to come around. It's just going to be everyone taking their turn and realizing that this is for the good of the team."
With Sunday serving as a getaway day for the team before it heads back for Monday's home opener, Matheny said he wanted to "unleash" Holliday for the first game at Busch Stadium. Along with Holliday, Matheny also gave second baseman David Descalso his first break of the 2013 season.
With the two regulars resting, Matt Carpenter moved from third to second base for Descalso, while Ty Wigginton started at third, Matt Adams started at first and Allen Craig filled in for Holliday in left field. Not only does Matheny want to keep his regulars fresh, but he indicated he'd like to keep reserve bats like Wigginton sharp off the bench. Wigginton has also had previous success against Giants starter Matt Cain, going 4-for-12 (.333) with a home run and five RBIs against the San Francisco ace in his career before adding an RBI single in the Cardinals' nine-run fourth inning Sunday.
"Right now we're just trying to get him a few more consistent at-bats," Matheny said of Wigginton. "So when we bring him in a pinch-hit situation, he'll have an opportunity to feel good about where he's at."
Cardinals excited for Opening Day at home
SAN FRANCISCO -- Following two months on the road, the Cardinals are eager to get back to Busch Stadium for Monday's home opener.
Manager Mike Matheny spent five seasons as a player with the Cardinals and took part in last year's opener at Busch Stadium, saying there's nothing quite like it.
"Opening Day in St. Louis is different than anywhere else. There's no question about it," Matheny said. "I think that's pretty universal; people agree with that."
Jaime Garcia will receive the starting honor in front of what figures to be an energized St. Louis crowd when the Cardinals host the Reds for the opener of a three-game series.
The Cardinals could also receive a boost from David Freese, who could be activated from the 15-day disabled list as he rehabs from a back injury. Freese is on track to rejoin the Cardinals on Monday after he played nine innings at third base Sunday with Triple-A Memphis, going 3-for-5 with a double, two RBIs and a run scored.
"Things look good right now," Matheny said before Sunday's series finale against the Giants. "We'll see how the day finishes up before we make any strong statement."
Alex Espinoza is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.