St. Louis Cardinals

Now in his 7th season, Mike Matheny shows few signs he's growing as a manager

Cardinals manager Mike Matheny talks with Marcell Ozuna, his new left fielder and cleanup hitter, during a game at Roger Dean Stadium in Jupiter, Florida.
Cardinals manager Mike Matheny talks with Marcell Ozuna, his new left fielder and cleanup hitter, during a game at Roger Dean Stadium in Jupiter, Florida. snagy@bnd.com

Considering all that's been said, done and anticipated during the sizzling hot stove season in St. Louis, the early angst among Cardinals fans is easy to understand.

The Cardinals are sitting two games below .500 after what can most generously be described as 10 inconsistent performances.

Still, the season is young. The measure of a team or player is best assessed over the long haul. It's the trends that emerge over time from the endless stream of statistics and averages that matter, not the game by game.

So I'm far less concerned with Dexter Fowler's .147 batting average than I am with this stubborn drumbeat of maddening trends we still see from Mike Matheny in his seventh season as manager of the Cardinals.

The Cardinals on Monday activated free-agent closer Greg Holland from an extended spring training stay in Palm Beach, Fla. To make room, they sent 26-year-old spring-training surprise Mike Mayers back to Class AAA Memphis.

It's just as well. Matheny wasn't using him anyway.

Mayers made an appearance in the season opener in New York, then disappeared until he was brought in to dish up an eighth-inning home run to A.J. Pollock in Sunday's loss to the Diamondbacks. Sixty-three innings passed in between with a glimpse of neither hide nor hair of the young right-hander.

This once again raises questions about Matheny's ability to manage a bullpen and his insistence on carrying a 13-man pitching staff.

And now that Holland is with the team, who will be the eighth man out?

There is an evolving trend among metrics-driven managers to go to the bullpen early and keep their starters from pitching three times through an opponent's lineup. This would certainly seem to necessitate an extra reliever.

Matheny said last week, though, that he likes to keep his eighth arm fresh to protect his bullpen, should the need for a long-relief appearance arise.

Naturally then, when Adam Wainwright was bounced by the Diamondbacks after 3 2/3 innings of the home opener Thursday, it was Mayers who got the call, right? Wrong. Matheny instead turned to Matt Bowman, Ryan Sherriff, Dominic Leone, Tyler Lyons and Jordan Hicks to stop the bleeding.

And Mayers was left to spit seeds in the bullpen. Again.

It makes no sense.

In the meantime, unused relief help is leaving the Cardinals with a short bench. Right now, they carry Yairo Munoz, Greg Garcia and Harrison Bader, who were a combined 1-for-16 before the series opener Monday with Milwaukee. Matheny hadn't used backup catcher Fernando Pena until the late innings Monday because he was the only safety net the Cardinals had should Yadier Molina needed to exit a game.

Last October, the Cardinals moved quickly and aggressively to surround Matheny with new coaches who specialize in the areas of his greatest weaknesses. Mike Maddux was introduced as the new pitching "coordinator," a guy who would set the rotation and have the manager's ear in the dugout.

Thank goodness.

But if Matheny has received any advice from Maddux so far, he's either ignored it or the new coach isn't the wizard with a young staff we witnessed while he was in Washington.

And it's not just the bullpen. Why does Matheny continue to pencil Matt Carpenter into the No. 3 spot of the lineup while Fowler leads off? But that's another column.

The point is that Matheny has established some maddening trends over six seasons in the Cardinals' dugout. Unless he evolves in 2018, missing the playoffs will become another.

Todd Eschman is the sports editor of the Belleville News-Democrat. Reach him by calling 618-239-2540 or emailing teschman@bnd.com

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