05/01/2013 3:14 PM ET
Cards view April with different lenses
By Jenifer Langosch / MLB.com
ST. LOUIS -- For all the adversity that the Cardinals faced in April, the club is atop the National League Central with 15 wins in 26 games. How successful the month was, though, depends largely upon perspective.
It's fair to contend that the Cardinals should have several more tallies in the win column given the club's stellar starting pitching. With a 2.15 rotation ERA, the Cardinals finished with the lowest such month-long figure for the franchise since 1968.
Potential wins were left untapped, however, because of a combustible bullpen that has already changed closers and an offense that has largely underachieved. That's why the Cardinals lost nine games in which their starter allowed three earned runs or fewer. In three of those losses, the starter didn't even allow an earned run.
"We look over what we've been able to do, and we'd be foolish not to learn from it," manager Mike Matheny said. "I think we learned a lot of things there. It's a long season, and if they keep going about it the right way, things will start shifting in the right direction as far as offensive production. The starters, we want them to just keep doing what they've been doing. And we're going to get this bullpen thing figured out."
There's the glass-half-full perspective, too, which would argue that the Cardinals are fortunate to have gotten all the wins they did. The offense's overall struggles were largely masked by the abnormally high success rate the Cardinals had when hitting with runners in scoring position.
The club had a challenging road-heavy schedule early, playing 15 of its first 21 games away from St. Louis (one road game was rained out). The only teams with records currently below .500 that the Cards have faced are the Phillies and Nationals.
"Look at our schedule -- a lot of road games against a lot of really good teams," Matt Holliday said. "[The record] wasn't ideal, but it was pretty good for having some of the road trips that we had early on. We had some wins that we could have won, but you feel pretty good about that."
Garcia's success goes beyond just pitching
ST. LOUIS -- The Cardinals see a variety of factors behind Jaime Garcia's early-season success. Most importantly, he's pitching healthy again. Important, too, is the renewed confidence Garcia has in his health. There's been effective pitch movement and the ability to tune out in-game distractions.
But manager Mike Matheny believes that Garcia's willingness to take the club's Spring Training suggestion to limit his comments to the media has played a prominent role in Garcia opening the season 3-1 with a 2.50 ERA, as well.
After reading and listening to the explanations -- and in some instances, excuses -- that Garcia gave after poor performances last year, the Cardinals asked him to cut down on his comments. That led Garcia to mostly stay on a script when talking to the media after each of his outings. He'll laud the defense behind him and the game-calling by the catcher. He says little about anything else.
It's an approach that the Cardinals endorse, even if it means that the public gets little insight into the left-hander's approach or mind-set.
"It's part of my job description [to talk with media]. It's not part of his," Matheny said. "His job is to go out there every single day and deal. And how he handles you and the fans, I hope he does it in a respectful way. But that's not something that he has to have a degree in. That's not something he has to be real proficient in. He has to simplify right now. I think as long as he plays this game, that's how he should go about it, even though it's very uninteresting for you. Once again, I just don't think that should matter."
Matheny said that the push to limit Garcia's dealings with the media is justified, even though a similar approach is not recommended to most players, who know that speaking to the media is their most effective way to mold a positive public image.
"I believe all of us should be accountable. And I do believe that [the media is] a conduit to the lifeblood of what we do," Matheny said. "And I believe that certain guys, most of them, just need to go and give honest answers. I think the bigger responsibility is doing your job. And if something around here gets in the way of doing your job, put first things first. It's not the priority. There are plenty of us around here who say more than what we need to to cover up for the guys who don't say enough."
Mujica using split changeup to amazing results
ST. LOUIS -- Though few other current Major League closers use the pitch with regularity, Edward Mujica continues to see his split-finger changeup evolve from a decent secondary pitch to an out weapon.
Mujica has gradually increased his reliability on the pitch since joining the Cardinals at the 2012 Trade Deadline, and this season, he has actually thrown more changeups than fastballs. That is a first in his career.
"It's working right now," Mujica said. "I don't try to shake [catcher Yadier Molina]. I just try to follow him. I go out there and throw my changeup down in the zone."
According to fangraphs.com, Mujica threw the changeup 45.2 percent of the time last season. That percentage has climbed to 56.9 in 2013. Before coming to St. Louis, Mujica never had a season-usage percentage higher than 38.
He earned his fifth save of the season on Tuesday by throwing 15 split-finger changeups (12 of which were strikes) in a 19-pitch inning. The pitch induced five foul balls, five swing and misses and three strikeouts of Joey Votto, Brandon Phillips and Jay Bruce.
The split-finger changeup -- which not only fools with velocity, but also with its late drop -- is rarely used by closers. Manager Mike Matheny said that it has evoked his memories of Dave Veres, who featured the pitch prominently when he was closing games for the Cardinals in the previous decade. Matheny was catching in St. Louis at the time.
"It's a great pitch," Matheny said of the changeup. "I think it's the most underrated pitch in baseball. Guys that master that pitch, it's a very, very effective pitch."
• The Cardinals are scheduled to begin a four-game series in Milwaukee on Thursday and will face the following Brewers starters (in order): Wily Peralta (2-1, 5.02 ERA), Kyle Lohse (1-2, 2.53), Yovani Gallardo (3-1, 4.25) and Marco Estrada (2-1, 4.58).
• Tuesday's 2-1 win over the Reds marked the first time the Cardinals have won a game without having a plate appearance with a runner in scoring position since Sept. 15, 2000, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. In that 3-2 win over the Cubs in 2000, the Cardinals clubbed three solo homers.
• Catcher Yadier Molina led all Major League catchers in April with 30 hits, the most he's had in a month since collecting 34 last May. Before this season, Molina has never tallied more than 24 hits in April. Including Wednesday, Molina has started 26 of the team's 27 games.
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.