It wasn’t long ago that folks were calling for Mike Matheny and some of his coaching staff’s heads. The Cardinals were on the kind of ‘Downward Spiral’ you’d find in a Nine Inch Nails song and Cardinal Nation wanted a new leader.
What a difference scoring runs and winning games makes.
But that’s not to say some fans still wouldn’t like a skipper with a better strategic track record. The paint’s far from dry on this Cardinal season, but the club has shown definite resilience of late, winning four of their last five and scoring a lot more runs than we’ve come to expect.
Guys like Matt Carpenter and Marcel Ozuna overcame early season slumps (Carp’s lasted a tad longer), and these Redbirds put up some crooked numbers there for a bit. Some Cards are still in ruts, but should we give Matheny and company some credit where it’s due?
Prior to Wednesday’s rubber match with Cleveland, Matheny discussed he and his staff’s approach to helping guys rediscover themselves and their abilities.
“You stay the course and you just keep working and that’s what this staff does a very good job of,” the skipper said. “Their motive is right and all they want to do is get each of these guys into a place where they feel great about themselves…You give them the information, you put in the time, you make yourself available; and our hitting coaches have done a great job of that.
“There’s things that you see that others might not because [the coaches] watch so close and they spend so much time talking through,” he added. “They spend so much time talking with the players; as much as anything else. And not just the mechanics of a swing. It’s more talking through the thought process and talking through with guys and getting them to believe in themselves. Letting them kind of voice some of their frustration.”
Matheny’s response fits his profile: That of a manager who’s taken plenty of criticism for in-game management, but whose players appear to enjoy playing for him. A player’s manager; someone who wants to help you right your own ship and feel good about yourself while doing so. In a recent interview with ‘The Bernie Miklasz Show,’ Carpenter discussed Matheny and staff’s influence on his regaining the plate approach that’s always brought him success.
“I credit our hitting coaches. They’ve really done a great job with it,” Carpenter said. “This is a tough town and at times they can kind of get thrown through the ringer when the offense is struggling, but I give them a lot of credit of getting me back to where I needed to be.
“The two really big things were, one, the decision that Mike made to give me those three days to reset, and then the work that I was getting done in the cage with [John] Mabry and [Bill] Mueller, and the advice they gave me to help me get through it. A lot of things had to factor into it, but it’s certainly been fun to get past that.”
Matheny figured it was just a matter of time before Carp reclaimed his proper swing.
“He’s just figured it out,” Matheny said. “Every one of these guys who have had success, they eventually will. He’s got confidence. He’s so disciplined with what he does. He knows his swing, but guys who know their swing very well are still going to run into those ruts, and it’s always tough at the beginning of the season when you don’t have any positives to really build on.
“It’s hard for someone like him who’s had a lot of success; just think about the younger players who haven’t…We’re human and you’re always concerned. You fall into doubt and it’s part of this game because it is so humbling.”
While the approach Carpenter responded so well to may not be for everyone, it worked in his case. Matheny wants his players to get out of their own way whenever possible, but it’s much easier said than done when you have fierce individuals like Tommy Pham and Dexter Fowler on the roster. The skipper knows this and believes all his players can maintain their personal potentials.
“I see guys always trying to force, because it’s easier to do than to trust,” Matheny said. “Your natural reaction is probably just to go get busy and do something, and that can work against you sometimes…Together you just jump in and try to make good decision each day to get you closer to being that high level player that we all know each guy can be.”