ST. LOUIS — Kolten Wong wants to be the leadoff man for the St. Louis Cardinals. He recognizes there’s quality competition.
Seeing the power numbers Matt Carpenter put up last year and touting his own base-stealing ability, Wong believes batting him first and putting Carpenter in the heart of the order would benefit the NL Central champions most. The problem: Carpenter appeared most comfortable at the top.
"I would love to be leadoff," Wong said over the weekend at the team’s annual Winter Warm-Up fan festival. "I’m more than happy to be at eight, too. So, we’ll see what happens. Hopefully, No. 1 is the spot."
Carpenter has been a highly productive if unusual leadoff man. He lacks pure speed and has developed an impressive power profile, but he’s been extremely patient at the plate. No one on the team works the count better.
Manager Mike Matheny said Carpenter is a "great example of a guy who redefined himself as a hitter."
The stats say he likes it at the top, too. Last year he batted .312 with a .389 on-base percentage in 80 games as the leadoff man, with 22 home runs and 50 RBIs. He batted just .225 hitting second.
But he doesn’t seem to mind where he lands on the lineup card.
"My approach is not going to change," Carpenter said. "I’m going to take the same bat, that’s just who I am. Certainly, I’m comfortable going in any place in the lineup and we’ll see what happens."
Carpenter led the Cardinals with 28 homers last year, 11 more than the next-best player.
"Heck, with that kind of power you can put him fourth," Wong said.
Wong’s leadoff production was not nearly as impressive last year. In 52 games, he batted .247 with a .303 on-base percentage along with six homers and 21 RBIs.
He feels there’s much more to give, especially if he gets that slot in spring training with time to wrap his mind around working counts.
"If I can really start buying into being a leadoff batter from the beginning," Wong said, "I feel like that will help me and help the team come this season."
The 25-year-old Wong said he hadn’t talked with Matheny about it, but planned to next month in Jupiter, Florida., and added, "Hopefully, we’re on the same page."
Matheny welcomes that chat, calling Wong’s wish an example of a player responding to constant prodding from the manager to always think of ways to help and better the team.
"I love it," Matheny said Monday. "I’m challenging these guys all the time: What is it you want to do? What’s the player you want to be?’"
Last year, Wong made 66 starts at the bottom end of the lineup, sixth through eighth. He stole 15 bases in 23 tries.
He also wore down in the second half, batting .280 prior to the All-Star break and .238 afterward with just two of his 11 homers.
Offseason pickup Jedd Gyorko can start at three infield spots and figures to take some of the burden off Wong, as well as Carpenter at third base and Jhonny Peralta at shortstop. Wong believes there’s a lot he can do to help himself, too.
Watching video, he noticed he wasn’t using his legs enough at the plate and at times was flying at the ball. He plans on using more of a closed stance and shorter stroke.
"That’s definitely going to add more consistency and allow me to see the ball better," Wong said. "Hopefully, it pans out."
NOTES: Matheny said Sunday he believed 36-year-old Matt Holliday, who missed about half of last season with injuries, was poised for a "ridiculous year" in the final year of his contract. … Pitcher Carlos Martinez, who missed the postseason due to shoulder fatigue, said he was about 90 percent back. … Addressing talk the Cardinals will be underdogs in the NL Central this year, the manager said, "I’m sensing an edge to this club already."