JUPITER, Fla. (AP) - Matt Carpenter believes the move back to his natural third base position could help him post better offensive numbers than last year's breakout season.
Carpenter spent last spring learning to play second base. However, the Cardinals traded away third baseman David Freese during the offseason, allowing Carpenter to move back to his natural defensive position and making room in the middle infield for Kolten Wong.
There's still an adjustment for Carpenter to make, but this spring his defensive progress is no longer under intense scrutiny.
''It's nice to be able to come in and focus on your offense - not necessarily that you don't think about defense, but you are not trying to learn a new spot,'' Carpenter said.
The 28-year-old Carpenter enjoyed a dream season in 2013, hitting .318 while leading the National League in hits (199) and runs (126). He finished fourth in MVP voting. Carpenter did that despite not really feeling comfortable at second base for much of the season.
''Toward the end of the spring I figured out I could (play second),'' Carpenter said. ''As the season went on I just got better and better.''
Carpenter did start 24 games at third last season and he figures his middle-infield experience will help.
''I think what I learned at second base is going to help me to be a better infielder in general,'' Carpenter said.
Carpenter isn't the only starter primed for a position change. Carlos Beltran's signing with the Yankees allowed the Cardinals to move Allen Craig from first base to right field, opening an everyday lineup spot for slugger Matt Adams. Unlike Carpenter, first base was Craig's natural position, though he's started 65 games in the outfield.
Manager Mike Matheny recognizes Craig is more comfortable in the infield, ''but (the outfield) is something that he's grown to appreciate and understand.''
''He likes the outfield, which is nice,'' he said. ''To have guys in a position where they think they could be successful, I think, is as important as anything.''
Like Carpenter, Craig also enjoyed a breakthrough season in 2013, hitting .315 while driving in 97 runs in only 508 at-bats to earn his first All-Star Game appearance. A foot injury shortened Craig's season and limited him to 17 postseason plate appearances.
He's running well this spring and also thinks he can improve on last year's offensive numbers.
''Obviously I'd like to be a little bit more patient, draw some walks, but that really hasn't been who I've been my entire career, so I am going to keep trying to find ways to continue doing what I've been doing,'' Craig said.
NOTES: Matheny said he is leaning toward Carlos Martinez as his starter for St. Louis' Feb. 28 spring training opening game against Miami. Martinez has been a starter throughout his minor league career but excelled in relief at the major league level last season. He is in the mix join the starting rotation but is more likely to make the club as a reliever. Matheny said he expects Adam Wainwright will be on schedule to start the season opener.

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