DENVER -- Mike Matheny spent eight seasons as a catcher in the National League, earning him a front row seat to watch Rockies first baseman Todd Helton in his prime.
So when Helton first announced on Saturday that he was retiring at season's end, Matheny knew just the caliber of player that was leaving the game.
"I've seen him have some really good days against us," said Matheny, now the Cardinals manager, before Monday's game against the Rockies at Coors Field. "Pretty frustrating trying to get him out for quite a few years. But he's had a great career, has been a great Rockie and I know that he's put up some pretty incredible numbers over the years that he's been able to wear this uniform."
Matheny, who spent five years with the Cardinals, said Helton fell into the same category as Astros stars Jeff Bagwell and Craig Biggio. Though he didn't know Helton personally, he said the 17-year veteran built a strong reputation for an impeccable work ethic, one that's helped him to 2,506 hits and a .317 career batting average after going 1-for-4 in Monday's 6-2 win over the Cardinals.
Nearly as impressive as Helton's offensive talent was his ability to foul off even the toughest of pitches, his at-bats sometimes climbing into double-digit pitch counts.
"What I noticed as a catcher was just athleticism and bat speed," Matheny said. "Big load that didn't normally go with good speed and it would result in tough at-bats where he was able to fight off pitches.
"Just an incredible athlete and able to do this for a long time."
Jay viewed as a second three-hole hitter
DENVER -- Jon Jay is a man of many roles.
The Cardinals center fielder has batted in eight of the nine batting positions this year, so it's understandable that Jay was slightly unsure of his exact role in this lineup. When Jay hit from the two-hole, he wasn't sure if he should approach the at-bat as a "table-setter" -- a player whose foremost job is to set up for the No. 3 batter.
So manager Mike Matheny found a creative way to explain the situation.
"The way I pictured him, when you're in the lineup and you're in the second batting position, I look at it as we have two three-hole hitters," Matheny said. "And that's the way I want you to go about your at-bat, as if you were a three-hole hitter."
While Jay can't match the offensive output of St. Louis' usual No. 3 batters -- Matt Holliday and Carlos Beltran -- he's had no trouble producing runs. Jay has 65 RBIs in 145 games after Monday's 6-2 loss in Colorado (when he hit second), and that is 25 more than his previous high of 40 set last season.
His numbers aren't lacking in the other categories, as he also has seven homers, 25 doubles and a pair of triples for a .265 batting average.
"He loves to be able to do things defensively to help the club, which he has been so consistent for us," Matheny said. "And offensively, I remember last year everybody was so concerned about his ability to drive in runs. You look at him now and that column's filling up. He's putting together the tough at-bats for us in big situations."
And though Jay's average has slipped from his first three years in the Majors, Matheny is confident he has the talent to keep up with the .305 average he finished with last year.
"Last year, being a .300 hitter, I believe that's the kind of hitter that he will be for the rest of his career," Matheny said.
Lynn's next test comes in Colorado
DENVER -- Before his last start, Cardinals starter Lance Lynn knew his future in the starting rotation might be hanging in the balance.
And Lynn pitched like we was in exactly that spot, allowing just one unearned run and five hits over six innings, striking out 10 and walking two in a 5-1 win over the Brewers. It was enough to at least assure him another start and possibly more, but Cardinals manager Mike Matheny also viewed it as a building block for the future.
Unlike Lynn's last start, however, Monday's came away from the comforts of Busch Stadium, at hitter's friendly Coors Field. It wasn't only a second test, but also a more challenging one for a pitcher who's struggled on the road.
He passed the test, giving up two runs on six hits and a walk in 6 1/3 innings with four strikeouts in the 6-2 loss to the Rockies.
"He's going to be in a situation where he's got some things to build on," Matheny said before the game. "But once again, we're not talking about major overhauls. It was more of an ability to hold his concentration. This could be a great test for him -- this is not your run-of-the-mill park."
Lynn was steady until mid-July, but he hasn't been the same since the All-Star break with a 4.48 ERA in 12 starts. Opposing batters are hitting .277 against him and Lynn is 2-6 over that stretch.
"So hopefully he's able to go out and make pitches and continue to make pitches regardless of circumstances," Matheny said. "I think that's … that next level. His stuff is there and he's just to be able to consistently come out there and figure out a way to get it done."
• Matheny said first baseman/outfielder Allen Craig will stay at home and rest for the remainder of the Cardinals' seven-game road trip. Craig sprained his left foot Sept. 4, but the club has said he should be back before season's end.
• Cardinals assistant hitting coach Bengie Molina, older brother of catcher Yadier, is not yet back with the club as he cares for his mother, who is battling an illness.
Ian McCue is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.