PITTSBURGH -- Disappointed with the overall bunt execution by his club in 2012, manager Mike Matheny entered Spring Training with the directive that all players would increase their bunting work. More early-morning repetitions were integrated into the workout schedule, as were bunting competitions.
Now the Cardinals are being watched.
Asked recently about how critical it is for pitchers to be capable bunters, Pirates manager Clint Hurdle singled out the Cardinals to emphasize his point.
"All you have to do is watch the games the Cardinals play against us," Hurdle said. "When I first got here, I was forewarned we were in bad shape, as far as pitchers handling the bat. We've made incremental progress, but we're still not anywhere where we need to be. We are better, but we still have a lot of room to cover. ... The Cardinals' program is the model for me -- set up early to bunt, show it, pull it back and then react."
After laying down 69 sacrifice bunts in 2012, the Cardinals already have nine through 13 games. Six of those have come from a pitcher. Last year the Cardinals' pitching staff had 36 successful sacrifice bunts, 12 by the now-departed Kyle Lohse.
"We felt like we didn't do as good a job as we could have [last year], and that was really coming from our pitching staff," Matheny said. "They were motivated to be better, and I think they already have been. You can see the approach that they have and the confidence that they have in those situations. They're just taking advantage of that. That's one-ninth of our lineup that has an opportunity to make an impact. We can't just turn those over without a real good effort. They've worked hard and will continue to. They set some high goals with things they wanted to accomplish this year offensively."
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.