Keeping reserves sharp a balancing act for Cards

Keeping reserves sharp a balancing act for Cards

WASHINGTON -- Manager Mike Matheny has not deviated from his favored starting lineup in any of the team's four postseason games so far. While such batting order consistency is certainly the first-year manager's preference, it has left the Cardinals' bench players the tough task of staying sharp without regular playing time.

"I have put them in a tough spot, but they have been making up for it and getting extra work and doing more to be prepared, and that's all they can do," Matheny said of his five-man bench. "We are going to continue to try and get them in there, but when things are going as they are, we need to ride out what gives us the best opportunity each night."

Matheny's three most utilized bench players -- Matt Carpenter, Shane Robinson and Skip Schumaker -- have accrued a combined seven at-bats through the team's first three playoff games. Only Carpenter has a hit, that coming in Friday's NL Wild Card game against the Braves.

The limited playing time hasn't been a recent development either. Because the Cards had to fend off the Dodgers in the Wild Card race until the second-to-last day of the regular season, Matheny had few opportunities to plug his bench players into starting spots in September.

Robinson, for instance, has made one start since Sept. 5. Schumaker has earned four since Sept. 15. Only Carpenter was able to start regularly down the stretch, that due to a late-season ankle injury to David Freese.

"I've said it a couple times: That's something down the stretch, I would have liked to have been able to do better was to keep the bench sharp," Matheny said. "But we felt like we were fighting for our lives every game all the way through the end of September, and didn't really have the opportunity to change something when it was going well and we found a good fit. [There are a few players] we need to keep sharp to be able to come off the bench and give us valuable at-bats."