John Lackey, who fired seven shutout innings and struck out eight in the St. Louis Cardinals’ 4-0 victory over Milwaukee on Thursday afternoon at Busch Stadium, is unlike most pitchers manager Mike Matheny has been around.
“We knew he was a workhorse as far as being able to go out and eat up some innings,” Matheny said of the 36-year-old right-hander, who is 1-0 with a 2.77 ERA in two starts. “But just his preparation, his professionalism, how he goes about his work in between (starts) is something we’ve been able to witness first-hand. It’s right on track with everything Waino (Adam Wainwright) is doing. It’s been a very pleasant surprise.”
In terms of temperament and competitiveness, Matheny said Lackey most resembles Matt Morris, who pitched for the Cardinals from 1997 to 2005.
“I love the word ‘crusty,’” Matheny said. “I’ve heard that used on (Lackey) a couple of times. Yeah, that fits. He’s got an edge to him. We needed a bit of that. He just loves to compete and do his part. He wants the ball. It makes for some interesting conversations with him.
“Matt Morris had a good bit of that, a little more antics, maybe, out there. Lackey’s a little more stoic. Matt wore his emotions on his sleeve. He and I would go round and round, and I think he took it out on me instead of the manager. Lackey, I think, prefers the manager. Somehow, I’m the target either way.”
Which doesn’t bother Matheny, a former catcher recognized as a tough guy.
“If it’s about us as a club, if it’s about wanting to compete, if it’s about trying to do your part, I’m all in on it,” Matheny said. “Now, when it crosses the line and becomes completely about them, we’ve got issues. But both (those guys) are competitors and both are guys that want the best for our club. Those are the people you want around here.”
Lackey wasn’t sure what “crusty” meant and wasn’t certain he wanted to embrace the adjective until it was unofficially defined as “tough-minded.”
“If that’s what (Matheny) means, then yeah,” Lackey said, also accepting that a pitcher had to be getting along in age to be crusty. “I don’t think some of these 22-year-olds can be put in that category. I like to compete. I like to get after it a little bit. I consider myself a pretty nice guy four out of five days.”
Matheny remembered that he and Morris “bumped heads hard.”
“We would have some screaming matches right in the middle of the game on the mound, in front of 40,000 people,” he said. “In the same breath, when we were thinking right and we were going, it was fun. He knew how to manipulate the zone and was trusting what I was seeing, and I was trusting what he could do. That was enjoyable for a catcher.”
Left fielder Matt Holliday is batting .333 (10-for-30) with five RBIs and a .459 on-base percentage. His single in the sixth against Mike Fiers put the Cardinals ahead for good at 1-0.
All of Holliday’s hits have been singles, leading some to wonder where the power has gone. Matheny takes exception with Holliday’s critics.
“That’s the kind of stuff that’s frustrating for us because we’re just getting these guys in position to where they can hit the ball hard,” Matheny said. “It’s an easy statement to say this guy isn’t doing this or that, but what it comes down to is us winning games, and that has to happen by us driving runs in. We’ve got to get a big hit, and he’s in the middle of the order to do that, and he’s doing his job. The other stuff is going to happen. It just is.”
Matheny said Holliday just needs to keep plugging along.
“We can’t let him get distracted by (criticism), or any of the other players, because then they start changing their approach and all of a sudden they aren’t squaring up balls,” Matheny said. “Then we have something to talk about. He’s right where he needs to be right now.”
Start for Reynolds
Matheny already is being challenged to find playing time for Mark Reynolds, Randal Grichuk, Pete Kozma, Peter Bourjos and, of course, Tony Cruz.
Reynolds, however, received a start at first base Thursday as Matt Adams sat. Reynolds, who also earned an assignment Sunday in Cincinnati, was 2-for-4 with an RBI double in a two-run seventh against Fiers that broke a scoreless tie.
“I was looking for a pitch up in the zone that I can hit up in the air and he left a fastball over the middle and I was able to put a good swing on it,” Reynolds said.
Reynold said Matheny gives him a 24-hour notice before a start.
“He’s going to have to play,” Matheny said of Reynolds, a right-handed-hitting slugger. “I’ve said that before about Randal Grichuk, too. We’ve got to find those opportunities. Obviously, we’re not facing a lot of left-handed pitching as far as starters are concerned, but we’ve got to try and keep them sharp.”
Matheny said the on-again, off-again schedule in the opening two weeks of the season hasn’t favored getting many at-bats for the Cardinals bench players.
“It’s challenging when you have this many days off because our everyday guys are kind of in a groove. They want to get rolling; they want to get into that everyday (routine),” Matheny said. “Trying to find time for the other guys is going to be a challenge, but we’re going to work it out as best we can. Do we have something in mind? No.”
Reynolds is fine with receiving an occasional start. He came to the Cardinals with the understanding that there was no full-time spot available.
“I was at a point in my career that I accepted coming in, trying to win,” he said. “So far, so good. I’ll get some at-bats down the road, stay fresh and be ready to pinch-hit when I need to.”
Several Cardinals players were expected to attend the Blues’ playoff game Wednesday against Minnesota, just as Blues players frequently attend games at Busch Stadium.
“We have a lot of respect for those guys and how they go about their business,” Matheny said, recognizing the bond between the two organizations. “(We know) how tough and demanding their sport is and just the kind of season they’ve put together. Hitch (coach Ken Hitchcock) has done a great job. We have a lot of respect for the style they play. (General manager) Doug Armstrong has put together a strong club, too.
“I know they come to our games a lot and we love following them and supporting them. It’s nice that we’re going to be able to get both games in today for our fan base to see.”
Matheny said he hasn’t had much interaction with Hitchcock, something he would like to change.
“I know he and Tony (La Russa) have a close friendship and I know there’s a lot I could take from him,” Matheny said. “I know Doug Armstrong probably a little better. You can’t help but have a great appreciation for what Hitch has been able to do in his career, and then watching how his guys respond and go about playing the game.”