Matheny urging Cardinals to force issue on basepaths

Manager seeing improvement after team finished '14 with 57 steals, 28th in Majors

Matheny urging Cardinals to force issue on basepaths

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- Second baseman Matt Carpenter opened Friday's game against the Mets at Tradition Field with a single. Before New York starter Bartolo Colon delivered his first pitch to the next hitter, Jon Jay, he threw over to first base twice.

In the visitor's dugout, manager Mike Matheny had to be smiling. He's been stressing the running game this spring and encouraging his players to take more chances on the bases.

"I keep telling them, 'Tell me one time when I've been angry when someone's been thrown out,'" Matheny said. "There are times we're going to shut them down. If we shut them down and then they run, then I'll be a little upset.

"But up to that point, I'm pushing them. I want to see close plays at first base on pickoffs. I want to see more attempts for pickoffs at second base. That shows me you're pushing the limits. It means you're trying to figure out how far you can go and this is the time to do that. If you do get picked off, you know what, we're probably going to go over to you and say, 'Nice job.' Not that we want to see you get picked off, but if they've stretched it and just can't get back, we know they're pushing the limits of where they need to be. In my opinion, that's part of the purpose of Spring Training."

The Cardinals stole 13 bases in their first 14 Grapefruit League games. Last season they had 57 during the entire regular season, ranking 28th out of 30 teams. Matheny said he's already seen improvement in the approach.

He mentioned an incident earlier this spring against the Nationals when shortstop Pete Kozma was thrown out trying to steal despite getting a great jump.

"We liked the aggressiveness, but told him, 'Now take that aggressiveness into your primary and secondary leads."

The manager then said with a smile, "And next thing you know, I'm watching and he's way off."

Paul Hagen is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.