St. Louis Cardinals manager Mike Matheny addressed the media on Sunday when the team held a workout after traveling back to St. Louis for the 2014 National League Division Series.
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Q. What has Matt Carpenter done to prepare himself to be as strong as he is this late in the year, this time around?
MIKE MATHENY: I believe he’s been an elite hitter all year. The average might not be kind of what we saw last year. It’s the quality of the at‑bats. I think anybody that faces us would agree, this guy just puts together tough at‑bat after tough at‑bat. And there’s not many people with the strike zone awareness he has, with the ability to find the barrel of the bat and fight off tough pitches like Matt can do. You try to stay with that and not try to do too much, and the home runs are going to come, the extra base hits are going to come. They didn’t come as often as what he wanted.
But this is also that second year people had a better idea on him. He was constantly making adjustments as they are. But the same kind of at‑bats we’ve seen all season long.
Q. The last three years you’ve had a lot of rookies, a lot of young players kind of emerge in October. How can playing on this stage accelerate development of these young players, and have you seen a payoff in the years after because of the experience they got in the postseason?
MIKE MATHENY: I think you can go to a few different people, I think one that would stand out would be Trevor right now, Trevor and Carlos both, kind of getting thrown into the fire last year in big situations. And watched how that has kind of translated and helped, I think, speed up their growth, for them to kind of just check off, We can do this. It’s not just a fluke.
And to do it on the big stage, like Michael did last year, health hasn’t been on his side this year, but I think it amplifies and speeds up that maturing process. And I think a little bit with Kolten, as well, last year, learned some good lessons.
And there’s a lot of decorated veterans that haven’t been able to really get that postseason experience, just to put themselves through the test, how do I answer the bell? Can I continue to produce on the bigger stage? And a lot of these younger players are doing it.
It’s fun for us to watch a Marco Gonzales step up and take advantage of those opportunities. And we believe that will help him in the future.
Q. The last few starts from Lackey, did he resemble the pitcher who you guys faced last fall?
MIKE MATHENY: Yeah, very much so. Just a guy that knows how to use his stuff. A smart pitcher and he’s got a real good feel for where the hitters are and where he wants to be, and trying to kind of stay one step ahead of them.
A little bit of a break there, I know that wasn’t what he wanted, but I think we saw a little bit different stuff, a little crisper. Some guys go through that dead arm period in Spring Training, some in June and some in September. And he was a little dead.
So it was good to see him bounce back, and we’re excited to watch him patch tomorrow.
Q. Lackey and then Miller, obviously you guys gave up a lot to get Lackey. Miller was a first‑round draft pick, and obviously club’s invested a lot in him, and this will be his first postseason start. Do you think there’s any added pressure on both of those guys because so much has been invested in them to get to this point?
MIKE MATHENY: Possibly so. The pressure isn’t anything new for John Lackey, which is part of the reason why we’re excited to watch him pitch Game 3. This is a stage he’s been on, and we’ve watched him excel on this stage. This is why he wanted to be over here, too. He was excited about being a part of this club, realizing there was an opportunity to pitch in October. And once a veteran player gets a taste of this, they realize this is what it’s about.
Shelby, I think, has a lot of things going for him, as well. Last year not being able to be on this stage when he had deserved it. And it’s been a long time waiting. Really enjoyed watching his progression through this year and how he’s improved and he’s just completely reinvented himself as a pitcher, in my opinion, in how he’s pitching now instead of throwing. And I think he’s ready to show the world that the success that he’s had so far isn’t just a fluke.
There’s going to be pressure. There’s pressure on these guys every day. And I think that’s something that they either thrive on it or else they most likely won’t be in a situation where they’re going to be on the roster right now.
Q. Last night several of the guys said that Greinke had more velocity than you expected. I wonder if that was similar to a year ago at this time when you got ready to face Lackey and how the guy you prepared to see became the guy in Game 6 that you saw. If there was a similar type change and what that says about what a veteran, sort of how he dials it up in October.
MIKE MATHENY: Yeah, I think certain guys can, if their bodies are going to allow them to. We saw a very sharp Zack Greinke yesterday. And a guy that has kind of been in the shadows, maybe a little bit of Kershaw, as well.
That healthy competition, we talk about that a lot around here, we think it’s good for everybody. Lance and Waino pushing each other, as well as everybody else on this staff. I can see a John Lackey jumping right into this and wanting to really make a statement to this organization.
And more importantly, and kind of the overall message we give to the guys as we go through the postseason, is just stay within yourself and keep doing what you’ve done, because it’s been good enough to get us here and it’s good enough to move us forward.
But you can’t help but get caught up in all the excitement and the environment and just the postseason, just the energy. And that sometimes can bring a little bit more out of you. And I wouldn’t be surprised if that’s what we see from John Lackey tomorrow.
Q. Can you talk about what Jose Oquendo brings as a third base coach, instructor, and also what he means for the organization?
MIKE MATHENY: Jose is one of the most talented baseball people I’ve ever been around. He’s got a great sense of the game, every aspect of it. What he means for us on third base is invaluable. He sees things mid game. He’s very aggressive and does a nice job of understanding each individual player as well as the situation.
Where he brings out, I think, a great deal of value also is just in the infield instruction. I don’t think you’re going to have many people really arguing with you to say that he’s one of the best infield instructors in the game. The relentless working, plus just the adapting and taking the information, and I think we’ve seen the benefit with our defense.
We’ve had a lot of talk here recently with our defensive improvement and a lot of that has to do with positioning. And Jose has done a terrific job. He’s just one of those long‑time Cardinals who’s been able to spend time with the Dave Ricketts of the Cardinal world, and the George Kissells, and the Tony La Russas, and the Whitey Herzogs, and Joe Torres, and these legendary names, who have kind of impacted this organization and kind of developed the culture that needs to keep going. And you need to have people who have spent time with those great names to pass on some of those great lessons.
Q. With John Lackey, if you don’t make a trade do you think you still win the Division, you think you still make the playoffs?
MIKE MATHENY: I think John’s been a great addition. You just never know how it all plays out. I think he brought an edge to us. I think every club when you’re making that push you’re always wondering what kind of improvements can you make.
And to bring in another frontline style pitcher that brings leadership and then goes out and then performs, too. He gave us a chance in all of his starts, only had a couple of blips, for the most part was very consistent. And for the most part was everything we asked.
We’re kind of bullish about the fact that no matter who we have or don’t have, we’re going to try to figure out a way to get it done. But I would say that John Lackey was a big piece of that puzzle.
Q. You alluded to after the game, tough loss. What was the ride home like, and how quickly did you and your guys shake that off and what does it mean to come home?
MIKE MATHENY: Well, that wasn’t your typical flight, seeing how we touched down around 6:00 this morning. The plane was pretty quiet, especially since we had some kids on that flight. I was surprised how good they were. I think they were all passed out.
We take our losses hard, have all season. And that’s why it’s fun to watch this club celebrate a great win, like we did after Game 1. And you think you have to allow yourself both of those. You can’t just suppress the wins when you take the losses as hard as this team does.
So took that one hard, realizing that we fought hard and got back into it. I think this team is also very realistic to realize that that was a great effort to get us back into that one, after being held down for so long.
And this is a team that, I think, resilience is just one of its greatest attributes. And hopefully they’re getting a good sleep today and getting ready for tomorrow and put that one behind us and realize we’ve got a couple of great games here at home and watch our fan base here get excited about us being back here.
Q. Getting back to Lackey, he’s legendary for wanting to stay in games. And I know you haven’t had him for that long, but what have your experiences been like when you’ve lifted him?
MIKE MATHENY: Yeah, I’ve had some interesting looks and conversations. Yeah, every time I go to take him out, I know it’s going to be something. But that was expected when he got here. We don’t necessarily want our pitchers standing on the mound looking into the bullpen wondering when they’re going to get a life preserver and somebody to come help them. But there’s that balance.
And he’s done a nice job of walking that fine line of making it known he’d like to stay in the game, but also not crossing that line. He’s been very respectful. He understands that it’s not just about him, but he also wants to do his job as a starter and that’s go as deep into a game as he can when he feels like he still has some stuff.
I get it. I get he wants to be in there. He’s still learning me. I’m still learning him. He’s still learning what we’re all about as a club. But he’s just been a great addition to our organization. And once again, that fire that he brings, not a bad thing.
Q. In Game 1 and also I guess the second half of September we saw Trevor’s command get better. Do you attribute that to the rest or other factors that play in that?
MIKE MATHENY: I’d say mostly the fact that we weren’t just beating him down every four out of five days. We worked him hard. We worked he and Pat Neshek, Seth Maness, even Carlos little bit, and they responded. It wasn’t something we were wanting to do, but I think we all remember how many close games we had and we needed him. And Trevor continued to answer the bell.
And we were able to give him a little bit of a rest in this little break, too, right after the end of the regular season, I think, is very beneficial. Trevor’s velocity looks great, Pat still looks sharp. It’s nice to get them these off days like today where everybody can kind of recharge and have everyone ready to go.
Q. I don’t know if you’ve been asked this before about bubble machines in the dugout and such. You guys don’t have them. What do you think of those gimmicks?
MIKE MATHENY: Yeah, we don’t have a bubble machine. If we did, we might use it.
You know, the game changed a lot that way. We do a line, where I don’t remember seeing anybody do that. They run down a line and high five everybody. Everybody has their own thing. And I think we spent so much time being pretty guarded and everything close to the vest, it’s fun to watch guys show some emotion. And if it’s with bubbles, it’s with bubbles. Whatever it takes to have some fun with this game, too.
I think it’s great for the fans to see that these guys are people, too, instead of just machines, that completely block off emotions and fun. Especially this time of year. You’ve got to enjoy it.