Matheny provides the gift of the two-hole and Bourjos responds
ST. LOUIS — There might be no better place in baseball to hit than the second spot in the St. Louis Cardinals’ batting order.
You get to bat after Matt Carpenter and before Matt Holliday, which means you often will be batting with someone on base and, when you get on, you’ll have someone coming up who can clean the bases with one swing.
Because pitchers prefer to face Holliday with as few base runners on as possible, they rarely will pitch around the two-hole hitter. When a pitcher doesn’t want to walk a hitter, he tends to throw a lot of fastballs. When a hitter knows a lot of fastballs in the strike zone likely are coming his way, his job becomes a whole lot easier.
Ask Peter Bourjos. He was 0 for the season when he was inserted into the second spot by manager Mike Matheny for the Cardinals’ home opener on Monday. "Just trying to get Peter going," Matheny said before the game, knowing the perk that hitting second can offer.
The skipper could not have scripted a better outcome than what occurred in the first inning. When Bourjos came up, Carpenter already stood on first and Holliday was looming. Reds starter Tony Cingrani wasn’t about to fool around with Bourjos.
He threw four straight fastballs and on the fourth, Bourjos broke his bat but still managed to poke a soft liner to center for his first hit with his new team. "Absolutely" a relief, said Bourjos, who had struck out in six of his first 13 at-bats. "It was nice to get one to fall in."
"That was exactly what we were hoping for," Matheny said.
Cingrani ended up walking Holliday on five pitches, and after Allen Craig struck out, Yadier Molina delivered a bases-clearing double that propelled the Cardinals to a 5-3 victory.
Bourjos added a second hit in the seventh, which was a byproduct not of his place in the order but of his No. 1 asset, speed. Because he is such a threat to bunt his way on, third basemen have to play in when he bats. Bourjos took advantage this time by bouncing a grounder down the third-base line that Todd Frazier might have been able to reach if he had been positioned normally. But he didn’t come close to touching this one, landing Bourjos a double. Holliday then doubled him home for his second run.
"Once you get him on base, fun things can happen," Matheny said. "Same thing with Kolten (Wong, another speedster who stole the team’s first base of the season Monday). That’s something (opposing pitchers) always have to be thinking about."
As fun as watching Bourjos on the bases is watching him chase down balls in the outfield. But so far he has had a couple of misplays there, too, muffing three of four chances to make the highlights with his defense.
While pleased to end his weeklong oh-fer, Bourjos wasn’t ready to pronounce himself at the top of his game. He also struck out two more times and his average remains a puny .111 after seven games. For a guy who spent spring training hearing from his new coaches that he needs to shorten his swing, hit the ball on the ground and put his wheels to work, his start to the season has been less than smooth.
"I still want to make adjustments," he said. "I want to cut down the strikeouts. I’ve struck out way too much to start the year. I really want to put the ball in play and simplify the approach. As the year goes on, it’s going to get better. It has to. If it doesn’t, it’s going to be a long year."
If he does hit like the Cardinals believe, Bourjos could end up in the two-hole for a reason other than trying to bust a slump.
You can follow Stan McNeal on Twitter at @stanmcneal or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.