Robinson, not Jay, starts in center vs. Kershaw
Trying to spark offense, Cards manager Matheny goes with righty-lefty matchup
ST. LOUIS -- After starting Jon Jay in center field against the first three left-handed starters the Cardinals faced this postseason, manager Mike Matheny chose instead to go with right-handed-hitting Shane Robinson against Dodgers lefty Clayton Kershaw in Game 6 of the National League Championship Series on Friday night.
Robinson had last started on Sept. 29, the final day of the regular season. Limited to pinch-hitting duties in the Cards' first 10 playoff games, Robinson had taken only four at-bats since. His lone hit, though, was a key one: The 5-foot-9 outfielder's solo homer gave St. Louis a cushion in an eventual Game 4 win over Los Angeles.
"You take what he was able to do off the bench, it was certainly a spark. And we can use a spark," Matheny said. "We just evaluate every day. What does it look like? What do we need? What is everybody doing collectively and individually? There is sometimes we need a little extra. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. But put everything into consideration, we have plenty of stats that support an opportunity for a right-hander to get in there.
"It's no secret that we're having trouble getting our consistent, productive offense. You just never know when that one piece might be able to help it."
Robinson did help in the Cardinals' series-ending 9-0 win, going 2-for-4, including a two-run single to cap a four-run third inning.
Right-handed hitters did fare a bit better (.202 batting average, .249 on-base percentage) against Kershaw than left-handed ones (.165 average, 224 OBP) entering Friday's game, though the assignment of hitting the 2013 NL Cy Young Award favorite is no easy task for anyone. In Game 2 of the NLCS, the Cardinals tallied just two hits off Kershaw in six innings. Jay, though, did contribute a sacrifice fly, which ended up driving in the only run of the game.
Overall in this series, Jay finished with four hits in 18 at-bats and had a troublesome time defensively. Robinson was 1-for-3 in his career against Kershaw entering Friday. The Dodgers' ace finished 0-4 against the Cards this season.
"[You have to] kind of have an idea of what pitch you might get that we want to do damage with, and [you have to be] waiting for it," Robinson said of his approach against Kershaw. "But yeah, a guy like Kershaw up there, you might not get too many pitches in an at-bat, so you might have to be aggressive a little bit earlier or on a pitch that you might not necessarily want to swing at."
Craig takes next step toward return, faces live pitching
ST. LOUIS -- Allen Craig estimated that he stood in the batter's box for an estimated 10 simulated at-bats early Friday afternoon. The live batting practice session "went well," the first baseman said afterward, and it is the latest step in Craig's efforts to be cleared to return for the World Series.
A few hours later, as the Cardinals were celebrating a 9-0 win that punched their ticket to the Fall Classic, Craig expressed an optimism that he would be ready to go when the World Series opens Wednesday (6:30 p.m. CT air time on FOX, 7:07 p.m. first pitch).
"I think I'll be ready," Craig said. "I'm going to give it my best shot. I feel good. I feel like I'm progressing in my rehab. If I had it my way, I'm going to be out there. That's what I'm anticipating. I wouldn't miss it for the world."
Craig faced rehabbing left-hander Jaime Garcia, as well as reserve pitchers Jake Westbrook and Sam Freeman, during the session, which marked the first time Craig had faced live pitching in six weeks. Craig suffered a Lisfranc fracture to his left foot on Sept. 4, and he has been rehabbing the injury since.
Craig needed some help, though, knowing that it was in his teammates' hands whether the season would extend long enough for him to be able to return.
"It's definitely not been easy to watch," Craig said. "It's been one of the hardest things in my career to not be able to finish out the season with these guys, because we have such a great group. It's been tough to watch. For them to continue to win and to give me a shot to play means a lot. It's not about me, but personally I'm really excited about it."
In addition to taking swings on Friday, Craig did some on-field running. The Cardinals expect to have Craig repeat the live BP session again in the next day or two. Though Craig may not be ready to play the field next week, the Cards do anticipate that he will be an asset as a designated hitter and pinch-hitter in the World Series.
"It was exciting for me the way I felt, because I'm still recovering from an injury, but it was exciting to see him out there feeling good and swinging the bat good," Garcia said. "He's a guy that wants to be out there, and he's been doing everything that has been asked of him. He wants to be out there so bad, so I think he's going to be ready to go."
Injured Garcia pleased with throwing session
ST. LOUIS -- While most of the attention from Friday afternoon's live batting practice was directed to Allen Craig, the first baseman wasn't the only Cardinals player to benefit from the session.
After 15 to 20 warmup tosses, left-hander Jaime Garcia stepped onto the Busch Stadium mound to throw about 22 pitches -- 14 fastballs with a few changeups and sinkers -- facing mostly Craig and then catcher Rob Johnson.
"Obviously I wasn't trying to do too much, but the intensity goes up as soon as you get a hitter in there," Garcia said. "It was just trying to get a feel for things. I was pleased with the way things went."
Garcia had surgery in late May to repair a labrum tear in his left shoulder. He started nine games this season for the Cardinals before increasing pain from the injury ended his season.
The 26-year-old lefty estimated that he will repeat the session in a few days, and he does not expect to throw a bullpen session in between.
"It was a good first live BP, and I'm excited about it," Garcia said. "I'm excited that Craig felt good and he looks good. I thought he looked really good swinging the bat. It's a good first time out there."
• Asked on Friday afternoon to relive the emotion of hitting a pinch-hit home run in the Cardinals' Game 4 victory, Robinson seemed to take a deft dig at the Dodgers, who have drawn attention by their excessive celebrating this series.
Said Robinson: "It's hard to describe how it felt. Obviously, I wanted to celebrate a little bit more, but [I'm] just trying to be smart with my actions and kind of keep everything even with my emotions and not really let it get the best of me. But I was very excited."
• With the lefty Kershaw on the mound, Matheny moved catcher Yadier Molina back up into the cleanup spot for Game 6 on Friday. Matt Adams, who entered the game 3-for-19 in the NLCS, dropped into the sixth spot.
Molina went 2-for-5 with an RBI in the Cardinals' 9-0 win, while Adams went 2-for-3 with an RBI.
• On Friday, Major League Baseball announced start times for the full slate of World Series games. First pitch for every World Series game, except Game 4, is scheduled for 7:07 p.m. CT. Game 4 will start at 7:15 p.m. All games will be televised on FOX.
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, By Gosh, It's Langosch, and follow her on Twitter @LangoschMLB. Chad Thornburg is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.