John Lackey, as expected, will get the ball when the St. Louis Cardinals play Game 1 of the National League Division Series at 5:45 p.m. Friday against Pittsburgh or Chicago.
The Cardinals have complete faith that Lackey (13-10, 2.77 ERA), who was 9-4 with a 1.93 ERA in 17 home starts, will give them what they need to get the series started on the right foot.
“We know John Lackey will be throwing the first one. That’s where we stand right now,” Matheny said Wednesday before his team went worked out for two hours at Busch Stadium. “He’s been as consistent as anybody in the league. The fact that he’s been able to be on this (postseason) stage and has had success on this stage ...
“There’s so many different things that he has brought to this club this year that make it, for us, a pretty obvious choice.”
All of Lackey’s home games have resulted in quality starts: at least six innings with no more than three earned runs.
“The numbers have been good at home, not bad on the road,” Matheny said. “He’s just had a good, strong season. We needed a veteran presence to come in and lead this staff, especially when ‘Waino’ (Adam Wainwright) went down. John Lackey has been that guy, not just in experience, but also the way he’s gone about his business and the way he’s pitched.”
Lackey, 36, can be a free agent after this season and will likely draw the interest of several teams. How much the Cardinals are involved remains to be seen.
“He’s meant a lot to the club,” Cardinals General Manager John Mozeliak said. “Our expectations (were) we thought we were trading for a good pitcher, and that’s what he’s been. When you think about having somebody that’s competitive, fiery, being a part of this rotation, it sort of helps us. His energy, other people grow from. That’s a benefit to the team.”
Through a club spokesman, Lackey said he would not discuss his Game 1 assignment until Thursday when the Cardinals and their opponent work out at Busch.
“‘Lack’, he’s a horse,” Cardinals pitcher Carlos Villanueva said. “Every time he goes out there, he’s going to go six or seven innings and we’re going to be good. It happened all year. He’s 36, 37 years old, whatever age he is, and he’s pitched a million innings, and he just put up an incredible season. He was just consistent. We lost ‘Waino’ and he stepped up. Nobody was expecting him to have this kind of year. He’s got fire, and you feed off that.”
Matheny said he might reveal his Game 2 starter Thursday. Left-hander Jaime Garcia (10-6, 2.43 ERA) would seem to have the inside track over Michael Wacha and Lance Lynn.
“I get the curiosity. But right now, it doesn’t do us any good to go any further,” said Matheny, adding that one of the starters would be available out of the bullpen in Game 1 on Friday.
Garcia said he hasn’t received word on whether he will be the Game 2 starter. For now, he’s just happy to be in the mix after an injury-plagued 2013 and 2014. He last pitched in the postseason in the 2012 division series against Washington.
“I’m so humbled by the opportunity; I’m extremely grateful and thankful just to be here and represent the St. Louis Cardinals in the playoffs,” Garcia said. “All I can say is, whenever it’s my time to go out there, I’m going to leave it all on the field and try to enjoy it as much as I can.”
Matheny said he would not disclose his roster until Thursday or Friday. Center fielder Peter Bourjos said he is not on the roster; utilityman Mark Reynolds confirmed he is on it.
Several other wild cards for a roster spot remain: pitchers Carlos Villanueva and Steve Cishek, first baseman Matt Adams and infielders Pete Kozma and Greg Garcia.
“I know it’s a hot topic, and I get it,” Matheny said. “Since (Sept. 30), it’s been on our minds non-stop. I think everybody who follows this team closely realizes there’s a lot of decisions that need to me made, things we haven’t taken lightly. We’ve spent a lot of hours trying to figure out what’s going to be best for this club.
“But it’s something we don’t really have to put on paper until Friday. There’s no sense in necessarily doing anything else right now. But I imagine by the time we have our workout (Thursday), we’ll probably have our roster ready to be made public at that point. But there’s still some things we’ve got to do.”
Mozeliak said postseason experience always is a factor when he and Matheny are considering the postseason roster.
“The good news for us is we have a fairly good balance of players that have been through this and obviously, we have some younger player that contributed, especially in the second half, that haven’t seen the postseason,” Mozeliak said.
“If this was a club that you’re looking desperately to make sure you had someone on there with experience, it would be one thing. But I feel like we have enough players that have been through it and seen it, that that’s not really a driving force.”
Randal Grichuk’s strained right elbow continues to make modest improvment. Matheny said Grichuk could throw the ball from 200 feet, more than sufficient to play the outfield.
“He’s real close,” Matheny said. “We’ll see how that responds. Randal’s still in that conversation to make sure his body responds well after we push him a little further.”
Matheny broached the possibility of using Jason Heyward in center field, which would shift Grichuk or rookie Stephen Piscotty to right. Assuming Matt Holliday starts in left, and if Grichuk plays right, Piscotty could start at first base over Adams and Brandon Moss. Piscotty almost certainly will play first against left-handed pitching.
“We have other options, and that’s including a Jason Heyward that can go out there and play a good center field,” Matheny said. “We feel (Grichuk) is going to be a good defender in center field when his arm’s right, or at either corner spot as a defender.”
Piscotty is eager for his first taste of the postseason.
“I couldn’t be any more excited,” he said. “This is something you dream of as a kid. I’m just going to try to enjoy the heck out of it the best I can. It’s been a dream. It’s kind of all culminating now. I’m excited to go out there and give it my best and see what happens.”