Cardinals continue to shuffle leadoff hitters

Cardinals continue to shuffle leadoff hitters

NEW YORK -- The name that Cardinals manager Mike Matheny wrote in on the top line of his lineup card was all but automatic last season, when Matt Carpenter batted first in 156 regular-season games.

But the consistency that Carpenter provided atop the lineup has recently been replaced by fluidity, with the Cardinals having used four different leadoff batters over the last four games alone.

With the club intrigued with Carpenter's fit in the two-hole -- where, theoretically, there should be more opportunity for run production -- the task of finding someone to reach base ahead of him has been more challenging than expected. Over the team's last eight games entering Monday, five different leadoff hitters went a combined 3-for-24 with two walks and two runs scored.

The scarcity of production comes after the Cardinals posted a higher on-base percentage and had more runs scored by their leadoff hitters than any other team in the Majors from 2013-14. Of course, most of that came from Carpenter, who became the team's leadoff batter one month into the 2013 season.

Now, it's a daily dose of leadoff roulette.

"We'll keep feeling our way through it and hopefully somebody will take advantage of it, or nightly, somebody will take advantage of it," Matheny said. "We have to find that good mix."

Kolten Wong drew the assignment in Monday's series opener, though he likely won't in Tuesday's game against Mets lefty Jon Niese. In that case, Randal Grichuk is likely to bat first. Over the last nine games, Wong, Grichuk, Jason Heyward, Peter Bourjos and Jon Jay have each made an appearance in the leadoff spot.

The shuffle will only continue, too, until Jay returns from left wrist tendinitis. Jay is eligible to come off the disabled list on May 26, and the Cardinals remain hopeful he'll be ready to do so by that date. Jay has made 104 career starts batting leadoff, including nine this season. From that spot, he is 10-for-38 this year.

Until then, Matheny isn't so concerned about finding the ideal leadoff hitter as he is using the place in the lineup to plug in one of his hottest batters.

"You can look at that position a couple different ways," Matheny said. "You can look at, 'This guy is a prototypical leadoff hitter. He works counts. He gets on base. He fights off a lot of tough pitches. He can run a little bit.' That's your typical guy. Now do we have that guy? Carp kind of fits that, but we see so much of a need [for him] somewhere else.

"How else can you look at that number one spot? You can look at it as, 'OK, what guy is really taking good at-bats? Get him up there as often as possible.' I think it's just another kind of way of thinking about the position."

Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, By Gosh, It's Langosch, follow her on Twitter @LangoschMLB, like her Facebook page Jenifer Langosch for Cardinals.com and listen to her podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.