Cardinals ride improved defense to winning spring

JUPITER, Fla. (AP) Given St. Louis' emphasis on improving its defense this spring, it's only appropriate that the Cardinals closed Grapefruit League play with a 6-4-3 double play.

It was St. Louis' 44th double play, best in the majors. The Cardinals are hoping it's also a sign of things to come.

''We'll be a better defensive team, I don't think there's any question about that,'' manager Mike Matheny said.

St. Louis committed 28 errors in 27 games last spring. The sloppiness flowed into the season, when the Cardinals committed 107 errors, sixth most in the majors, and missed the playoffs for the first time since 2010.

They had 23 errors in 32 games this spring. Only four teams had fewer miscues entering Wednesday's games.

Defense is a major reason St. Louis signed center fielder Dexter Fowler in the offseason. Fowler committed the Cardinals' final Grapefruit League error when he bobbled Stephen Drew's one-hopper during Wednesday's 6-2 victory against Washington, allowing Michael Taylor to advance from second to third.

Fowler's acquisition makes the Cardinals better in more than one outfield spot. Last year's center fielder, Randal Grichuk, moves over to left.

''You watch guys move in the outfield, it's exciting - very athletic, which has been kind of a go-to word for us all spring and all winter but you see it in the way these guys move in the outfield and I think you've seen it on the infield as well,'' Matheny said.

The infield also has been reshuffled. With Aledmys Diaz now comfortable at shortstop - only four of his 16 errors last season came after the month of May - he is showing a solid glove to go with his potent bat.

Diaz and second baseman Kolten Wong displayed good chemistry all spring, and the duo combined to turn double play No. 43 in the first inning against the Nationals.

Matt Carpenter moved from third base to first, where he becomes a better-than-average defender. That opened a spot for former shortstop Jhonny Peralta at third, where already looks quite comfortable.

''He looks really good right now, no question about it,'' Matheny said.

Helped by the improved defense, the Cardinals (20-8-4) posted their first 20-win spring since 1997. St. Louis wrapped up Grapefruit League play by going 8-1-1 in its final 10 games.

''I want to win, I don't care what game it is,'' Matheny said. ''They've done a nice job of trying to make that a habit.''

NOTES: Cardinals RHP Jonathan Broxton will start Thursday's exhibition at Triple-A Memphis. Lance Lynn had been scheduled to throw that game but fear of inclement weather prompted the Cardinals to have Lynn throw in a minor league game at the team's spring training complex instead. Mike Leake will start Friday's exhibition at Double-A Springfield. ... Nationals LF Jayson Werth fouled a ball off his toe on Tuesday and didn't play on Wednesday. Daniel Murphy (illness) was expected to play in a minor league game on Wednesday and could make the Nationals' trip to Fort Myers to play Boston on Thursday. Anthony Rendon missed his second consecutive game after fouling a ball off his shin on Monday.

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