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Cards expect uptick in pitchers' hitting

Wainwright, Leake handle bat as well as any hurler
MLB.com @LangoschMLB

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- After taking multiple questions this spring about whether he'd entertain batting the pitcher eighth during the season, manager Mike Matheny obliged Wednesday, which was also the first time this spring that the Cardinals have not utilized a designated hitter.

But while Matheny can now assert that he's tried the unorthodox placement, the lineup configuration had little to do with any strategy other than to limit Yadier Molina's exposure at the plate. Molina still has not been cleared to swing, though he did make his first bit of Grapefruit League contact by laying down a sacrifice bunt. He struck out looking his second time up.

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LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- After taking multiple questions this spring about whether he'd entertain batting the pitcher eighth during the season, manager Mike Matheny obliged Wednesday, which was also the first time this spring that the Cardinals have not utilized a designated hitter.

But while Matheny can now assert that he's tried the unorthodox placement, the lineup configuration had little to do with any strategy other than to limit Yadier Molina's exposure at the plate. Molina still has not been cleared to swing, though he did make his first bit of Grapefruit League contact by laying down a sacrifice bunt. He struck out looking his second time up.

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As for the pitchers, they'll be getting more exposure at the plate over these final two weeks of games, as the Cardinals will limit the use of the DH moving forward. And with the addition of Mike Leake and the return of Adam Wainwright, the Cards may just have their best group of hitting pitchers in recent years.

Though Leake is coming off the worst offensive year (.116/.116/.246) of his career, he ranks first in hits (77), first in doubles (16), third in slugging percentage (.310) and fourth in RBIs (23) among all pitchers since 2010. He's focused more on that aspect of his game, too, and throughout camp has been taking extra swings in the batting cages.

"I think this year I will put a little more time and effort into it," Leake said.

The Cardinals' pitchers, as an offensive unit, produced around league average in most offensive categories last season. Among all National League teams, the pitchers finished sixth in batting average (.132), fourth in on-base percentage (.172), seventh in total bases (49) and ninth with 27 sacrifice hits. They struck out a combined 123 times in 310 at-bats.

With Wainwright and Leake essentially replacing John Lackey and Lance Lynn in the rotation, the Cards expect an uptick in offensive production from the starting staff this year. Wainwright is a career .198/.226/.285 hitter.

As the first pitcher to hit this spring, Jaime Garcia went 0-for-2 and scored a run in Wednesday's 8-8 tie with the Braves.

Worth noting

• Though the Cardinals may struggle to find Rule 5 Draft pick Matt Bowman many more multiple-inning outings now that the team's starters are pitching deeper, the club will continue to make Bowman a priority pitcher as it evaluates him for a potential bullpen role. Bowman, who would fit as a long reliever if he makes the team, allowed four runs on five hits in one inning Wednesday. Four of those hits were ground-ball singles.

Patrick Wisdom entered Wednesday's game in the sixth inning, making this his first appearance since he had to leave a March 9 game due to hamstring tightness. Wisdom went hitless in two at-bats.

• The Cardinals have 49 players remaining in Major League camp after optioning outfielder Charlie Tilson to Triple-A Memphis. Tilson stole five bases while appearing in eight Grapefruit League games.

• According to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, the sentencing hearing for former Cardinals scouting director Chris Correa has been delayed until June. Correa, who plead guilty in January to five criminal charges related to his unauthorized access of the Astros' database, was initially scheduled to be sentenced April 11, the date of the Cardinals' home opener.

Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, By Gosh, It's Langosch, follow her on Twitter @LangoschMLB, like her Facebook page Jenifer Langosch for Cardinals.com and listen to her podcast.

St. Louis Cardinals, Jaime Garcia, Mike Leake, Yadier Molina, Adam Wainwright