Matheny still searching for optimal lineup

Matheny still searching for optimal lineup

CINCINNATI -- The offseason acquisition of Jason Heyward made the Cardinals' batting order a prominent preseason topic, one that manager Mike Matheny addressed regularly in Spring Training. He talked often about how many different players could fit in different parts of the lineup in season.

Then it was talked about as a luxury. In execution, however, it's been more of a necessity.

Matheny wrote out his 86th different batting order on Wednesday, the team's 107th game of the season. Some of the shuffling has been due to injury, as, for instance, the Cardinals never had intentions of trying out new three-hole hitters until Matt Holliday landed on the disabled list with a quad injury.

More of it, however, has come in an effort to jumpstart an offense averaging 3.96 runs per game.

"Every manager would probably like to go out and right eight names use it for 162 games," Matheny said on Wednesday, after changing his lineup for the 10th straight game. "That would make it really easy. But there are too many highs and lows through the season. I think there are different ways of looking at it.

"For us, it's just that we don't want to sit back and wait for something to happen. If we can proactively give a nudge here, or sometimes it's giving a compliment to a guy who is really swinging the bat well, or give a challenge to a guy who is struggling. Just those little adjustments, at least, change the look of what is going on day to day, to where we're not throwing it out there the same every day expecting different results."

After a three-month stretch batting in the second spot, Matt Carpenter recently returned to the leadoff spot, a place where he has thrived. He is likely to remain there, but look for continued adjustments behind him. Over the last seven games, Kolten Wong has hit as high as first and, on Wednesday, as low as eighth. Similarly, Stephen Piscotty and Randal Grichuk have flip flopped between the second and eighth spots.

Heyward, who is now trying out a fit as a three-hole hitter, has started in every spot, one through eight. Grichuk has started games in seven different batting order positions and Wong in six different ones. The absence of consistency has been so pronounced that Yadier Molina actually leads the teams in starts from the fifth, sixth and seventh places in the order.

All sorts of factors play into the Matheny's daily shuffle, from matchup concerns, to recent streaks, to spreading out his left-handed hitters. That has made the exercise much more fluid than formulaic, evidenced by the fact that Matheny has used only one lineup more than three times this season.

"You're just trying to also put guys in spots where they might also have some success and see how it comes together as a group," Matheny said. "More so than anything else, it is just trying to figure out how to get guys in a spot where they're going to be comfortable or get other guys who maybe have been in a good spot and are looking for that good feel at the plate."

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.