STL@NYM: Carpenter makes a heads-up grab at second

NEW YORK -- Manager Mike Matheny called Matt Carpenter "the best second baseman in the league" on Thursday, an endorsement that he then backed up by starting Carpenter -- and not Daniel Descalso -- at the position for the Cardinals' series finale in New York.

With third baseman David Freese on the bench, Matheny needed a lineup with both Carpenter and Descalso included. During such occurrences earlier in the season, Matheny would shift Carpenter to third -- his natural position -- and insert Descalso at second.

Now, Carpenter has proven he is good enough to stay.

"I want him to see that it's a compliment that he's done a very nice job making that transition," Matheny said. "The rest of the baseball world, I think, has been overlooking what this kid has been able to do offensively and defensively and all the way around. He's done a terrific job. He's been a difference-maker for us."

Told of Matheny's high praise, Carpenter responded: "That's quite a compliment. I'm very happy the progress that I've made over there. Obviously, I'm proud of the way I've been offensively. But defensively, for me, that was my main goal. If I went over there, I wanted to be somebody they could count on. I didn't just want to be a guy who would be there for seven innings and then [it be], 'Get him out of there because he's a mess.' I've been real happy with the way it's gone, and hopefully I can keep that going."

The numbers -- on both the offensive and defensive ends -- provide some substance to Matheny's bold claim. Entering Wednesday, no second baseman in baseball had a higher WAR (wins above replacement player) than Carpenter's 3.4 mark, as calculated by fangraphs.com.

On the offensive end, Carpenter ranks second among National League second basemen in batting average (.327), and first in on-base percentage (.411) and on-base plus slugging (.889). No leadoff hitter has a higher on-base percentage than Carpenter does from that spot.

His ultimate zone rating -- a defensive statistic that compares a player to an average defender at that position -- is 3.3, the third-highest in the NL.

"He's made some tough plays look very easy," Matheny said. "I give [third-base and infield coach] Jose Oquendo a lot of credit for the in-game instruction, constantly point him in the right direction or giving him a reminder of something that might be going on, whether it's a bunt defense or a cut-off situation.

"That's the one variable that we knew we had, was the work [ethic]. He's not afraid to work. He'll outwork anybody. You take talent and you mix that together, you're set up to give yourself a good chance. But he's done even more than we thought."

Recognition outside of the Cardinals' clubhouse and fan base has been slow to develop for Carpenter. When Major League Baseball released its first All-Star voting tabulations, Carpenter was ranked fourth among NL second basemen. He moved up to third in the voting, according to the most recent release of numbers.

Matheny helps out, catches side bullpen session

NEW YORK -- Manager Mike Matheny returned to his roots on Thursday, catching Tyler Lyons' bullpen session after a morning rainstorm condensed the amount of time the Cardinals had to get in all their pregame work.

It wasn't until about an hour before game time that the weather cleared enough for Lyons and Michael Wacha to head out to the Citi Field bullpen and throw their scheduled side sessions. By that point, the Cardinals' two catchers -- Yadier Molina and Tony Cruz -- were already preparing for the game. Bullpen catcher Jamie Pogue was catching Wacha.

With the bullpen needing to be cleared in time for starter Adam Wainwright to throw his warmup pitches, Matheny figured it would be best for Wacha and Lyons to throw side by side. So the manager crouched behind the plate.

"I wanted to make sure they got their stuff done," Matheny said.

A four-time Gold Glove catcher, Matheny has caught his pitchers sporadically before, but this marked the first time this season that he caught a full side session.

Worth noting

• A day after having his 20-game hitting streak snapped, Freese was out of the Cardinals' lineup on Thursday. The hitting streak was the longest by a Cardinals third baseman since Joe Torre hit safely in 24 straight games during the 1970-71 seasons.

• Matheny said that Giants manager Bruce Bochy never approached him with an offer to serve on the National League All-Star Game coaching staff. It was announced on Thursday that Bochy, who will manage the NL squad, selected the Mets' Terry Collins and Washington's Davey Johnson as coaches. Matheny said that he is looking forward to spending the break with his family.

• Right-hander Carlos Martinez earned his first career Triple-A win on Wednesday, going six innings and allowing two earned runs on seven hits. He didn't walk a batter and struck out five in the 91-pitch performance.

• In five games since returning from the disabled list, Memphis outfielder Oscar Taveras has gone 6-for-18 with two doubles and two RBIs. Taveras, ranked by MLB.com as the organization's top prospect, missed nearly four weeks due to a high ankle sprain.