WASHINGTON -- Shortly after gathering in Florida to begin preparations for the season, the Cardinals' starting pitchers gathered together and set an offensive objective. Displeased with their results at the plate last season, the group wanted to improve with the bat and, even if the hits didn't fall, extend at-bats to make themselves a tougher out.
That led to extra pitchers' hitting work during Spring Training, the early returns of which have been positive. In three of the four games in this series, the Cardinals' starting pitcher helped his own cause by driving in a run. Adam Wainwright had two hits and reached base four times Thursday. Lance Lynn collected his first career RBI double in a one-run win Saturday. Shelby Miller drove in a run with a two-out double in the fourth Sunday. It was his third career double and third career RBI.
The only starter without a hit through 18 games is Michael Wacha, and he's taken only seven at-bats.
"[Hitting coach] John Mabry and [bench coach] Mike Aldrete have both been very clear with the expectation of a shorter stroke and just trusting the fact of putting the bigger part of the bat on the ball," manager Mike Matheny said. "I think they're doing a nice job with shortening up. I think it's starting to pay off."
Last season, the Cardinals ranked 11th in the National League with a .126 pitchers batting average, the lowest such mark from a St. Louis rotation since 1986. The group also struck out 139 times, a number they want to reduce.
Though still extremely early in the year, the Cards' pitchers were third with a .194 average entering Sunday. They had struck out 16 times in 36 at-bats.
Lyons tabbed to fill Kelly's spot in rotation
WASHINGTON -- The Cardinals made official on Sunday the roster move most had been anticipating since starter Joe Kelly went on the disabled list Thursday with a left hamstring strain. It will be lefty Tyler Lyons, manager Mike Matheny confirmed, who will take Kelly's spot in the rotation and start Monday against the Mets.
Lyons will join the team in New York once recalled, and the Cardinals opened up a spot for him on the 25-man roster by optioning Jorge Rondon to Triple-A Memphis following Sunday's loss. That returns the club to a seven-man bullpen.
Matheny said that Lyons' last start -- a seven-inning outing in which he allowed one run on five hits and struck out six -- as well as his experience as a starter in the Majors last season played into the decision to make him the first callup. It also worked out that Monday would have been Lyons' next day to pitch for Memphis.
"He was very good last time out," Matheny said. "We just hope he can carry that momentum forward here [Monday]. He did a great job for us when he got the opportunity [last year]. And we go with that hot hand."
By adding Lyons to the rotation, the Cardinals will have one lefty among the five starters. Lyons made eight starts for St. Louis last year, the first two of which he allowed two runs over 14 innings. He struggled in the outings that followed and finished 2-4 with a 4.75 ERA.
The Cardinals will need at least two spot starts in Kelly's rotation place as he sits out a minimum of 15 days.
Holliday's day off his first of season
WASHINGTON -- In an effort to continue to rest his starting position players while the Cardinals trudge through a stretch of 20 games in 20 days, Manager Mike Matheny sat outfielder Matt Holliday on Sunday. Holliday had been the Cards' only position player to start each of the team's first 18 games.
On this road trip, Matheny had created days off for Yadier Molina, Matt Adams and Matt Carpenter.
"We talked about this a while back when the road trip started, knowing how long of a run this was going to be with everybody," Matheny said. "We kind of had today earmarked [for Holliday], and I think today should be a good one."
By choosing to sit Holliday on Sunday, the left fielder did not get to face Nationals starter Stephen Strasburg, against whom he was 4-for-6.
The move to unplug Holliday also necessitated some defensive realignment. Matheny shifted Allen Craig from right field to left, explaining that move by noting that Craig is actually more comfortable in left. That left right field for Jon Jay to handle, while Peter Bourjos started in center.
Rondon optioned to open roster spot for Lyons
WASHINGTON -- Neither Jorge Rondon nor Eric Fornataro, both of whom were called to the Majors on Thursday, had an opportunity to pitch in the four-game series the Cardinals concluded Sunday. Fornataro, however, gets the opportunity for the longer stay.
Needing to clear space for Tyler Lyons to be added to the 25-man roster Monday, the Cardinals optioned Rondon back to Triple-A Memphis following Sunday's 3-2 loss. Manager Mike Matheny said that the club internally considered Fornataro the first of the two called up last week, which put him in place to be the one to stay.
"I think they're both very similar in how they've pitched and how they'd be used," Matheny said. "Jorge has been throwing good and he's been [pitching] on the backside [of the bullpen], too. We're going to send him back and tell him to be ready in case we need him. We know what he can do, even though he didn't get a chance to show it this time."
• Matheny said that Kelly is "responding better than anticipated" in the early days of treatment for a left hamstring strain. Kelly, who returned to St. Louis on Thursday for an MRI, has resumed long toss.
• Right-hander Zack Petrick, the Cardinals' 2013 Minor League Pitcher of the Year, has been promoted to Triple-A Memphis, where he will take the rotation opening created with Lyons' addition to the big league roster. Petrick opened the season with Double-A Springfield, where he had allowed one earned run on nine hits in 18 2/3 innings. He walked five and struck out 15.
• With Orioles manager Buck Showalter having challenged a call Saturday, Matheny now owns the distinction of being the only manager in Major League Baseball to not use a challenge this season.
• The Mets have set their rotation for the Cardinals' upcoming visit and are scheduled to start the following pitchers, in order, beginning Monday: Jenrry Mejia (2-0, 2.81 ERA), Dillon Gee (1-0, 3.71), Jon Niese (0-2, 2.84) and Bartolo Colon (1-3, 5.40).
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, By Gosh, It's Langosch, and follow her on Twitter @LangoschMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.