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Pitchers put in extra work at the plate

JUPITER, Fla. -- In an effort to try and squeeze more production from the No. 9 spot in the batting order, the Cardinals are having their pitchers work on their hitting earlier this spring than in previous camps run by manager Mike Matheny.

St. Louis ranked 11th among the 15 National League teams with a .126 pitchers' batting average in 2013. Not since 1986 had the Cardinals' pitching staff posted a lower collective average.

"We're going to be a better offensive hitting group of pitchers this year," Matheny said. "These other guys, they do so much talking about how athletic they are that I think they weren't very content with what they were able to do last year. It's a little edge if we can get our guys to do some things to help them maximize their opportunities."

The league average for pitchers average last season was .135; the Cardinals had three pitchers -- Adam Wainwright (.211), Jake Westbrook (.176) and Joe Kelly (.152) -- hit better than that NL mean. Wainwright's batting average ranked 10th in the NL among all pitchers with at least 25 plate appearances.

It isn't just overall average that Matheny hopes to see improved. He is also seeking a drop in strikeouts. The Cardinals' pitchers struck out 139 times in 2013, one fewer than the league-most total posted by both Pittsburgh and New York.

Lance Lynn (.074) and Shelby Miller (.075) had particular trouble handling the bat last season. The two combined to strike out 59 times in 107 at-bats. Both are expected to be back in the rotation this year.

"There are some things out there telling us that part of it is an approach deal," Matheny said. "Every time they get on base, we're rolling that order over and bringing up guys who have the potential to do some damage."

The athleticism that the Cardinals hope will translate into improved results at the plate also should help the club improve defensively, Matheny said. The organization has worked to improve the attention to detail in spring pitchers fielding practice for this purpose.

Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for Read her blog, By Gosh, It's Langosch, and follow her on Twitter @LangoschMLB.
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