Beltran showing signs of emerging from slump
Cardinals right fielder drills three-run homer in first inning
ST. LOUIS -- Mired in a 3-for-32 slump, Carlos Beltran said on Wednesday that he continues to search for the timing that he had during a torrid season start. Hours later, he certainly displayed no such issues.
Beltran drilled a first-pitch changeup from Pittsburgh right-hander A.J. Burnett over the right-field wall for a three-run blast in the first inning of Wednesday's game. The home run, Beltran's sixth of the season, broke a string of 11 consecutive homerless games for the right fielder. Beltran also singled home a run in the second inning.
"Hitting is a feeling," Beltran said before the game. "Only I know when it's right. Right now, I don't feel right. I feel a little bit uncomfortable in the batters' box. The only way it's going to go away is with more at-bats and continuing to go to the cage until it clicks."
Shortly after Beltran talked about not feeling good with his timing, manager Mike Matheny noted that he felt Beltran was "real close to taking off on a tear again." Beltran's first-inning swing, at least temporarily, validated Matheny's prediction. While one home run isn't going to end Beltran's slump, it is the latest encouraging sign that he might be emerging from it.
He has recently hit a number of hard foul balls and has continued to take walks. He walked eight times during that 3-for-32 stretch. That's the same number of walks Beltran drew when he opened the season with a .347 batting average in 13 games.
"It all comes down to seeing the ball," Matheny said. "He just went through a stretch there where you could tell he just wasn't picking it up. He worked on his timing. He worked on softening everything up. You could see he's seeing the ball better. Now it's a matter of getting the confidence up. His timing looks soft and smooth. He's close."
Beltran has told Matheny that he would prefer to play through the skid, wanting the opportunity to hit his way back on track. In fact, in a recent game in Chicago, Beltran talked his way into the lineup when Matheny had scheduled a day off for the right fielder.
Beltran's skid began shortly after he shifted from the second-hole to the cleanup spot in the lineup, a move that coincided with Lance Berkman's placement on the disabled list. To assume that there is a connection between that move and this offensive slump, though, would be forcing correlation.
Neither Beltran, nor Matheny, see that as related.
"Right now I feel like I'm chasing pitches out of the strike zone," Beltran said pregame. "Every time you chase pitches out of the strike zone, it means that you're not seeing the ball well. That's how I'm feeling right now."
Coaches detect flaw in Salas' delivery
ST. LOUIS -- The Cardinals' coaching staff believes it has identified a mechanical flaw that, when corrected, should help reliever Fernando Salas emerge from his recent funk.
After a so-so spring showing, Salas has been scored upon in four of his 12 outings this year. He has lost his role as the team's primary setup man and has a WHIP over two. Tuesday was as rough an appearance as any, as Salas inherited a six-run lead in the eighth and allowed the Pirates to shave that deficit in half. The right-hander was pulled after facing six batters and throwing 28 pitches.
During an afternoon bullpen session on Wednesday, Salas was told of some discrepancies spotted between his delivery now and that motion during previous periods of success. That prompted some slight tweaking -- mostly focused on getting Salas to have more exaggerated of a rotation -- that the Cardinals hope will improve his fastball command.
"He's been trying a couple different things that have probably set him up with some errant fastballs that have ended up hurting him," manager Mike Matheny said. "He was excited to see what was found and hopefully he'll make some adjustments from here. ... It's amazing how subtle a change can make such a large difference."
Salas came into spring as a favorite to win a setup job given the success he had in 2011. Now with a 7.27 ERA -- the highest of anyone on the staff -- Salas will be pitching in less-pressured spots until he feels comfortable again.
"I want to get him in situations where he can have a little bit of room for error," Matheny said. "I just believe he's going to be as big a part of this bullpen as he was last year. He's been trying to make some adjustments, and I think now he's got his hands around what he needs to do to get back to where he was."
Batting practice moved up to avoid shadows
ST. LOUIS -- Prompted by requests from his players, Cardinals manager Mike Matheny scheduled an early batting practice on Wednesday to minimize how much the shadows affected the session.
Last year, several players voiced frustration about how difficult it was to see the ball during mid-afternoon games because of the shadows that would creep across the infield. Those have recently been a nuisance during batting practice, too, and that drove players to approach hitting coach Mark McGwire with the suggestion. Matheny agreed to the time change.
"Batting practice is about getting comfortable with your swing, and you don't want to fight any elements," Matheny said. "The guys are willing to get here early. "[The shadows] changes as the spring progresses, but right now the shadows are pretty tough."
On Wednesday, the entire team was out on the field by 3:30 p.m. CT, approximately 45 minutes earlier than usual.
While this likely isn't the last time the Cardinals will take their swings early, the shadows will become less of a problem as the season progresses and the daylight hours change.
Starters Lance Lynn (4-0, 1.33 ERA) and Kyle Lohse (4-0, 1.62 ERA) each received votes for Major League Baseball's National League Pitcher of the Month award, but the April honor was won by Washington's Stephen Strasburg (2-0, 1.13 ERA).
For the first time since landing on the disabled list, Lance Berkman (left calf strain) joined his teammates for batting practice on Wednesday. His biggest test, though, is mobility-related, and Berkman has not done any strenuous running. He is eligible to come off the DL on Friday, though it seems unlikely he will be ready.
The Cardinals have named outfielder Oscar Taveras and right-hander Seth Maness the organization's Minor League player and pitcher of the month for April. Taveras, who is in Double-A, hit .340 with nine doubles, two triples, six home runs and 21 RBIs in 23 April games. In five starts for high Class A Palm Beach, Maness went 3-0 with a 0.67 ERA. He struck out 21 and didn't walk a batter in 27 innings.
With four more stolen bases on Tuesday, St. Louis has swiped 20 in 23 games. That total ranks third in the NL and marks the quickest the Cardinals have reached 20 steals since 2004. The Cards have a success rate of 80 percent, which is the Majors' fourth-best such mark.
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, By Gosh, It's Langosch, and follow her on Twitter @LangoschMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.