ST. LOUIS -- Count Matt Adams among the many he has surprised with his steady defense at first base.
Following up on a pair of impressive catches on Thursday against the Angels, Adams made another diving stop and tossed to pitcher Jake Westbrook for the out at first in Friday's 4-1 win over the Marlins.
Adams, who slimmed down in the offseason, credits third-base coach Jose Oquendo with helping him get into the best position before the ball comes off the bat, allowing Adams more time to react.
"Last year, I wouldn't get to the balls I got to the past two nights," Adams said. "Just the work that I put in in the offseason and the work that Jose's been doing with me since Spring Training."
While the Cardinals don't take infield practice before games, something Matheny said is essentially extinct at the big league level, the players make up for it with daily ground-ball work, which has helped Adams maintain his skills without consistent in-game fielding opportunities.
"Just keep taking ground balls because the days that I'm not in there, I've just got to stay fresh with that so the glove stays smooth and I'm ready for whenever the games pick up," Adams said.
With an eight-game stretch in American League ballparks, Matheny preferred to insert a starter into the designated hitter spot, giving them a half-day off, allowing Adams to slide into the lineup. On Friday, Carlos Beltran was given the night off, moving first baseman Allen Craig to right field, again opening up an opportunity for Adams.
"It was a great chance for us to watch him flop around on the field, have him diving all over the place, kind of see him on a consistent basis defensively," Matheny said. "When you have that designated hitter option, to me that's something that these veterans guys have earned, a little time off to be able to still keep their swings going."
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, By Gosh, It's Langosch, and follow her on Twitter @LangoschMLB. Chad Thornburg is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.