ATLANTA -- Three hours before the Cardinals participated in batting practice and their daily set of defensive drills, Matt Carpenter took the field and opened his ears for extra instruction.
He heard from infield coach Jose Oquendo, assistant hitting coach David Bell and manager Mike Matheny, all three surrounding Carpenter on the dirt around third base to talk to him about timing and positioning. Displeased with his early-season defensive showing at third base, Carpenter saw no better solution than to put in extra work.
"I think that overall -- defense, offense, trying to get in sync with the way I know I can play and the way I want to feel," Carpenter said. "But it's a long season, and that's going to happen. You just have to find a way to minimize it when things aren't going your way. And when you do feel good, you try to ride that out as long as you can."
"I think he hasn't really found a comfortable rhythm over there yet," added Matheny. "It's amazing, every single thing about this game is timing. He doesn't feel comfortable timing-wise -- getting set up, getting prepared when the ball is crossing the plate of what position he wants to be in. True to form, he's out working."
Matheny, speaking during batting practice, stopped and pointed to the field.
"He's out there working right now. Look at him," Matheny added. "He's going to get there."
Carpenter transitioned back to third base this season, though the move was expected to be easier than the one he made a year ago when he was a newbie at second. With an offseason of incessant work, Carpenter made himself no worse than an average defender at second. That's why expectations were high for what Carpenter could offer over at third base, his natural position.
Instead, the results have been mixed. Carpenter has committed six errors -- he had a seventh one erased on Tuesday with a late scoring change -- and his ultimate-zone rating of -3.1 is third lowest among the 21 qualifying third basemen.
"He worked his butt off last year to do what he did at second," Matheny said. "And it's a whole different timing. The timing that you have there doesn't necessarily prepare you for the speed and reaction you need here at third. Having success over there [at second base] at this level should instantly translate into having more confidence that you should be successful at a position that you've spent more time at. But it doesn't automatically happen."
Matheny sits Craig, says slugger 'not right' at plate
ATLANTA -- It didn't matter that Allen Craig was hitting .333 against left-handers this season or is 3-for-8 in his career against Atlanta starter Mike Minor. Manager Mike Matheny insists he didn't think twice about sitting his starting right fielder for Wednesday night's series finale against the Braves.
"When you're not right, you're not right," Matheny explained. "Yeah, I think ideally, if we had our choices, we'd have no problem throwing Allen in there against lefties or righties. But it's the timing, more so, than what the opposition looks like."
Timing at the plate continues to be the foremost issue with Craig's offensive struggles. He's hitting .202/.252/.326 through 33 games and has done little since his celebrated four-hit game on April 30. The Cardinals hoped that game would jumpstart the slow-starting Craig. Instead, it now looks like an anomaly.
Since that afternoon, Craig has only two hits (both singles) in 20 at-bats. He has struck out six times and not drawn a walk.
"It's a shame, but it's part of the game that you go through this, and it's part of the conversations that we continue to have," Matheny said. "Typically, it's something that is good for you [over] the long haul -- whether it's an appreciation deal or a better knowledge of yourself and the mentality that it takes to compete at this level for a long time. He's the kind of player that should be able to have that success for a long while. Sometimes spurts like this help that to happen."
For now, though, the Cardinals are most concerned with the short-term and finding a way to spark a player who was projected to bat cleanup. About the only bit of traction Craig has found this season is against left-handed pitching, and the Cards are scheduled to face another on Friday in Pirates southpaw Francisco Liriano.
Matheny encouraged Craig to shut it down on Wednesday -- no batting practice, no fielding work, etc. -- though he did spot Craig watching scouting video.
"These guys are always, for the most part, 'Let's go do more and more and more,'" Matheny said. "And when that's not working, you have to back off. Especially if you're close to being locked in mechanically. Sometimes a little bit of a breather makes a world of a difference."
Randal Grichuk started in place of Craig in right field on Wednesday.
Lyons to get another start as Cards stick with staff
ATLANTA -- The Cardinals plan to roll their rotation over in order following Thursday's off-day, manager Mike Matheny confirmed on Wednesday. That means that Tyler Lyons, whose spot was skipped last Friday, remains in line to start against the Cubs on Monday.
In keeping the rotation order as is, the Cardinals will give each of their starters an extra day of rest.
Lyons has earned the chance to remain the team's fifth starter, even though the Cardinals are winless in his three spot starts. The lefty has allowed seven earned runs over those 18 innings. Trouble is, he has been supported by only two from his own offense.
Yet results aside, the early returns show a pitcher improved from when he was called upon to fill a rotation vacancy last season. Lyons credits that growth mostly to strides he has made on the mental side.
"I wouldn't say physically I'm this or that better," Lyons said. "I think it's just controlling the game a little bit better from the mindset standpoint and trying to slow it down. I thought that was something I learned at the end of last year, even when I was pitching in relief here and there. It's something I'm trying to take over into this year."
Specifically, Lyons has made it a point to take his time. Comfortable working quickly from pitch to pitch, Lyons has a tendency to speed up even more when the situation gets more precarious. Pitching coach Derek Lilliquist pointed that out to the lefty recently, encouraging Lyons to do more stepping off the mound or changing the tempo or anything to slow down and focus.
Lyons said he was intentional with that on Tuesday night, when he got into trouble in his final two innings of work. He allowed only one run on three hits in six innings.
• General manager John Mozeliak said that left-handed pitcher Jaime Garcia "looks and feels good," but that no date has been set for his next Minor League rehab start. Garcia exited his outing for Double-A Springfield early on Sunday after being hit on his left elbow by a second-inning pitch. Garcia had been working his way back from a left shoulder injury.
• Right-hander Zach Petrick led Memphis to an 8-1 win on Wednesday with his third quality start in four outings since being promoted to Triple-A. Petrick allowed one run on three hits and two walks in 6 2/3 innings. He struck out four. Tommy Pham and Luis Mateo supported Petrick with home runs.
• The Pirates are scheduled to start the following pitchers, in order, during the Cardinals' upcoming visit to PNC Park: Liriano (0-3, 4.54 ERA), Edinson Volquez (1-3, 4.19 ERA) and Charlie Morton (0-4, 3.45 ERA).
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.