8/25/2013 12:52 A.M. ET
Cardinals cutting back on defensive shifts
By Jenifer Langosch and Chad Thornburg / MLB.com
ST. LOUIS -- The Cardinals have employed infield defensive shifts against Atlanta's left-handed-hitting Brian McCann and Freddie Freeman at times throughout this series. But the implementation of such exaggerated positioning has been much more the exception than the rule this season.
Manager Mike Matheny admitted on Saturday that the team has cut back on its shifting, largely because the concept of moving infielders to unorthodox places based on a batter's likelihood of hitting the ball to a particular spot was not embraced by all members of the pitching staff.
Getting pitchers to buy into the philosophy is as critical as using a hitters' spray chart to position the defenders appropriately. That's because a pitcher can negate the shift single-handedly if he does not pitch the batter in a way that increases the chances of a ball hit a certain direction.
"Last year there were times when we were shifting and I knew [the pitchers] weren't real comfortable with it," Matheny said. "No matter what I believe, we can talk to guys about the importance and show them the statistics, but if they don't feel comfortable with how the defense is aligned behind them, we're wasting our time."
Matheny and his coaching staff present those statistics during pre-series pitching meetings. The information shows the potential payoff of shifting against certain batters, but those numbers are absorbed and applied individually. Younger pitchers have less say in eliminating shifts behind them than do veterans.
"There are some guys it just bothers them to know that the defense is shifted and is out of what the normal position would be when it's not working," Matheny said. "It's kind of like the catcher's philosophy. You have a game plan, and you know what could work, but if a pitcher doesn't have complete buy-in, you're probably not going to get a very well-executed pitch. The way our pitchers think and the way that they go about preparing in their mind for a pitch is the top of our priority list."
Shelby Miller reaped the benefits of the Cardinals' defensive shifts against Freeman twice on Saturday. In both the fourth and sixth, Freeman sent sharp grounders right to second baseman Kolten Wong, who was positioned in shallow right field. Both resulted in routine groundouts.
"It worked out because [catcher] Yadi [Molina] was calling softer stuff to make him pull the ball," Miller said. "Wong was there both times. The shift is hit or miss. But I think if you execute the pitches that Yadi calls -- because Yadi calls them toward the defense -- good things happen. Those two balls that Freddie hit, he hit them hard, but they were both outs. I won't complain about it."
From the opposing perspective, the Cardinals have seen opponents use defensive shifts against them several times this season. Matt Adams and -- to a lesser degree -- Carlos Beltran have faced it most often. The potential benefits of a shift were no more obvious than back on Aug. 13, when Pirates second baseman Neil Walker snagged Adams' line drive while playing several feet into right field. Walker's positioning prevented the Cardinals from scoring what would have been the tying run.
Wainwright matching mentor Carpenter
ST. LOUIS -- When Adam Wainwright signed a spring contract extension that guaranteed he would be in St. Louis through the 2018 season, the ace right-hander talked about the potential to carve a legacy as a Cardinal. One of the benchmarks along that path would be to rival the nine-year Cardinals career of Chris Carpenter -- and with Friday night's performance, Wainwright finds himself having reached that point.
With his nine strikeouts on Friday, Wainwright leaped Carpenter to move into third place on the all-time franchise K list with 1,090. Wainwright is likely to assume the second spot in his next start, as Dizzy Dean only had five more. Wainwright's 15th win of the 2013 season was also the 95th of his career. That equals Carpenter's total as a Cardinal.
Reaching those numbers are particularly meaningful to Wainwright, because it means he is matching his mentor.
"He taught me to be a professional up here, and the guy I watched coming up through the system was him," Wainwright said. "He went on this last road trip and I got to sit and talk pitching with him. Each time we get to do that, I still learn a lot from him. He knows my game real well. It's nice to have a guy like that who can watch you pitch and say, 'Hey, you've been doing this or that a little bit differently,' talk strategy, talk game plan. I just love that."
Dig into the numbers of the two pitchers and other comparable figures emerge. Wainwright now holds a 3.06 ERA in his eight years with the Cardinals. Carpenter's career ERA in St. Louis is 3.07. Carpenter has more complete games (21) and shutouts (10) than Wainwright (16 and six, respectively), but he's also started 21 more games.
Wainwright has averaged 7.7 strikeouts per nine innings to Carpenter's 7.2. Yet, Carpenter has a slightly better strikeout-to walk ratio at 3.67, compared to Wainwright's 3.34.
The regular-season numbers may be similar, but the postseason figures still tip heavily in Carpenter's favor. Wainwright has just two career playoff wins, while Carpenter holds the franchise record with 10 in 18 starts.
"I just have to get some postseason numbers like he has and then we'll start talking about comparable careers," Wainwright said. "He's been such a horse for so many years that it's just an honor to be in the same conversation."
Mujica returns to hill, records brief save
ST. LOUIS -- After being shelved for two days with upper back tightness, closer Edward Mujica returned to action Saturday. The right-hander put down a brief ninth-inning surge from the Braves to earn his 34th save of the season.
"I feel much better today, that's why I talked to [manager Mike Matheny]," Mujica said. "I was ready to go tonight, and he put me in the game."
Mujica met with Dr. Clayton Skaggs on Thursday, and with no structural damage, the closer treated the tightness in the right upper side of his back with rest, heat and ice packs, exercises and anti-inflammatory medication. Mujica said he expects to be available again in Sunday's series finale with Atlanta, but will wait to see how he feels then.
Neither Randy Choate nor Seth Maness could secure the final out in the ninth. Instead, they allowed Atlanta to score on three consecutive hits, creating a save opportunity for Mujica, who struck out Elliot Johnson with three pitches.
"If he's going to be in there, it's good that it was short," Matheny said. "Same thing with Seth. It's been a while since we've had Randy in there. We wanted him to get some outs. Needed to get some help, but fortunately it was a short outing for Seth and for [Mujica]. It looked like he felt good."
• Although he has yet to resume hitting or catching, catcher Tony Cruz said Saturday that his fractured left forearm is feeling better. In addition to rest and ice, Cruz is receiving daily ultrasound treatments on his injured arm. He was unsure whether he will be ready to come off the disabled list when eligible on Aug. 30.
• After hitting only nine home runs in July, the Cardinals entered Saturday having already connected for 19 in 22 August games. That total ranks tied for seventh in the National League.
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, By Gosh, It's Langosch, and follow her on Twitter @LangoschMLB. Chad Thornburg is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.