PITTSBURGH • Cardinals left fielder Matt Holliday allowed following Saturday’s 2-0 loss to the Pittsburgh Pirates that he is in a bad place at the plate right now.
The Cardinals’ No. 3 hitter saw his average dip to .194 on a night when he struck out in all three at-bats, including a pivotal eighth-inning plate appearance with the tying run in scoring position.
Holliday walked in Saturday’s first appearance against Pirates starting pitcher A.J. Burnett. Having struggled to maintain plate discipline during his skid, he became clearly bothered when called out on strikes by plate umpire Jim Reynolds in the third inning.
"It’s a hard job. I get it. I’m trying to do the best I can," Holliday said. "When it’s the third strike, that’s the one that hurts. When it’s the first or second strike you’ve still got a chance to overcome calls that are borderline or off."
His first-inning walk was Holliday’s first since April 8 — the Cardinals’ fourth game of the season. His final two at-bats appeared to deteriorate. The eighth-inning chance became a five-pitch strikeout in which he fell behind reliever Jason Grilli 0-2 and fouled off two pitches before striking out.
"It’s the nature of the beast. When things start to not go well, you try to force the issue," manager Mike Matheny said. "Even though he has trusted his approach for the most part, the lack of results sometimes make you get a little overaggressive."
Holliday has endured as many strikeouts (13) as he has produced hits in 64 at-bats. Though Matheny was complimentary of Reynolds’ strike zone Saturday, he thought the third-inning call on Holliday an exception.
"That particular pitch from the side didn’t look like a good pitch," Matheny said. "But you can’t let one pitch change the game. Yet it seems to have happened to Matt a lot. I’ve seen some high strikes called on him that seemed out of the ordinary for the strike zone set that day. I don’t think he’s one who’d go out there saying that, but I’m saying it for him because it’s happened more often to him more than anybody else."
Said Holliday: "I’ve had some calls go against me that, had they gone the other way, might have helped my at-bats. You don’t want to make an excuse. It’s not an excuse."
Though he hit .408 last April, Holliday has endured sluggish starts before. He thought this season would be more like last following a strong spring training. Instead, he has found mostly frustration.
"You feel like you’re far but one swing, one good round of batting practice or one little feel that clicks in can get you out of it," he said.
CRAIG BEGINS REHAB
Outfielder Allen Craig took an important step toward rejoining the club on Saturday when he began a minor-league rehab assignment at Class A Palm Beach. Craig fanned the optimism by driving a home run in his first at-bat.
Once projected to return from off-season knee surgery in time to be part of the Opening Day roster, Craig served as Palm Beach’s designated hitter, a role he will continue to play for at least several days before migrating to the outfield. He went 1-for-3 with a strikeout in addition to his home run. He did not appear in the second half of Saturday’s doubleheader. The club believes it possible Craig could be activated around the end of the month.
JAY, SCHUMAKER ON HOLD
Manager Mike Matheny employed his third starting center fielder in as many games Saturday when he gave Shane Robinson the starting assignment while Jon Jay and Skip Schumaker continue to recover from recent collisions with outfield walls.
Matheny characterized Schumaker, who left Friday’s first inning following a play that resulted in an inside-the-park home run, as closer to returning than Jay. Schumaker took full batting practice Saturday while Jay was limited to tee work. Schumaker jarred the right oblique that last month forced him to the disabled list. Jay continues to work a right shoulder jammed in a Thursday run-in with the Busch Stadium wall. Matheny insisted both players were available for limited duty but was unsure when either might be able to handle a start.
Schumaker briefly lobbied to remain in Friday’s game, as his incident took place only two pitches into the home first inning. However, Matheny, who blamed himself for not pulling Schumaker from a March exhibition when he first noticed something amiss, was not ready to risk further injury Friday.
"I understood that; I just didn’t see any good happening after that," Matheny said. "He understands that."
The Cardinals training staff cleared Jay for situational work only Saturday. "If they give me the go-ahead that he’s ready to go in some situations, that means he’s real close for me to write his name in there at the top," Matheny said.
Robinson made this third start of the season a day after Erik Komatsu replaced Schumaker in Friday’s 4-1 win.
Carlos Beltran has meanwhile yet to make an appearance in center field. The potential for that move increases once Craig is activated.
DOMINICAN TRIP FOR 'MO'
Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak is scheduled to begin a three-day tour of the Dominican Republic today.
Mozeliak will visit the organization’s academy in La Victoria, a northern suburb of Santo Domingo. The organization is weighing whether to move their facility when their lease expires on the current facility.