Cardinals show faith in shortstop Kozma
Rookie remains in lineup despite gaffes in Wild Card game, NLDS Game 1
ST. LOUIS -- The Cardinals plan to stay the course with their middle-infield alignment despite a pair of shaky postseason games for rookie shortstop Pete Kozma.
Thrust into the starting shortstop role because of a late-August injury to Rafael Furcal, Kozma held his own with little trouble during the final month of the regular season. He was steady defensively and exceeded expectations with the bat. Beginning with Friday's National League Wild Card game in Atlanta, however, Kozma has found himself cast into an unwanted spotlight.
His decision on Friday to bail on a popup he called for led to immense controversy about how the infield fly rule should be applied. In Game 1 of the NL Division Series on Sunday, Kozma's fielding error in the eighth set the Nationals up to score the tying and winning runs.
He's also gone a combined 0-for-6 at the plate.
Manager Mike Matheny pulled Kozma aside after the Cards' 3-2 loss on Sunday to reiterate the faith the organization has in the 24-year-old's ability to handle himself on this stage.
"I just don't want him falling into the trap, thinking he's got to do something different than what he's been doing, because he's been terrific for us," Matheny said. "The more that it's brought to his attention, it becomes more of a distraction, more of a challenge. Hopefully he can fight through that. I know the veteran players are spending time talking to him just about the consistent approach. That's really what our team is all about. Hopefully it'll pay off in the long run."
Without Furcal, the Cardinals don't have a plethora of other options for the position. The only switch Matheny could make would be to move Daniel Descalso to short and insert Skip Schumaker at second base. The organization believes such an arrangement would not be as strong a defensive option.
Asked if he considered making a lineup change for Game 2, Matheny answered: "I like the guys that we've got."
Day later, Matheny reflects on decisive 'pen change
ST. LOUIS -- Since dropping Game 1 of the National League Division Series, 3-2, to the Nationals, Cardinals manager Mike Matheny admits to replaying his eighth-inning bullpen decisions in his head several times. He offered no regrets for handling the pitching change the way he did, preferring to credit Washington for winning a matchup he felt would work in St. Louis' favor.
Matheny relayed on Monday that he had little hesitation pulling Mitchell Boggs with two runners in scoring position and two outs in the eighth. Though Boggs had thrown only 11 pitches, the inning, which began with an error, had been stressful enough that Matheny found "it time to get him some help."
Believing he needed to make a move, Matheny saw two choices. He could go to closer Jason Motte for a four-out save, something Matheny has done several times before. Or he could turn to lefty Marc Rzepczynski. The catch was that with the pitcher's spot due up fourth in the bottom of the eighth, Matheny would have had to make a double-switch to get Motte in the game and keep him from batting in a potentially critical spot in the bottom half of the inning.
That would have required taking out one of his middle-of-the-order bats, a move that, with a one-run lead, Matheny didn't think was wise. Thus, he sent in his lone lefty reliever.
Matheny anticipated the Nationals would counter with a right-handed bat -- which they did in sending up Tyler Moore -- but the manager said he still liked the matchup. Right-handed hitters and left-handed hitters have had nearly identical success against Rzepczynski this year.
"I like the way he's been throwing the ball, and we need him," Matheny said. "I have a lot of faith in Rzepczynski getting him out. I have faith in my guy to get the job done."
In this instance, Rzepczynski couldn't. Moore dropped a two-run single into right field. The hit turned out to be the game-winner for Washington.
"It's easy to sit back and look at, 'What if I would have done this, that or the other?' and you can pretty much drive yourself crazy in this business if you do that enough," Matheny said. "But I also think it would be a mistake not to go back through it and make sure that all of the bases were covered, and that we looked at it from every angle. And we did, and it just didn't work out our way."
Freese feels even more comfortable this postseason
ST. LOUIS -- The darling of last October, David Freese returned to the postseason stage better prepared for the spotlight, even though he's cognizant that he'll never replicate the four-week high he experienced during the 2011 playoffs.
Freese was not yet a nationally recognized third baseman at this time a year ago. Rather, his coming-out postseason party was just beginning. By the end of October, he had established postseason marks in RBIs (21) and total bases (50). He tied the Major League record with 25 hits, none bigger than the two he delivered to send the Cardinals to a Game 6 World Series win.
How is it different a second time around?
"I think last year, I was more naïve to all this," Freese said on Monday. "But everything's slower now. It's more relaxing. You understand you just have to do your own thing and prepare and focus and worry about winning a baseball game. But this is what we live for, and to be back here for a second time, it's awesome. You grind it out for six months and get a chance to sneak in and try to do it all over again. It's awesome, and you couldn't ask for anything more."
After driving in a run in Friday's National League Wild Card game, Freese had two of the Cardinals' three hits in Sunday's NL Division Series Game 1 loss.
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, By Gosh, It's Langosch, and follow her on Twitter @LangoschMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.