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Cards' Holliday shows signs of finding swing

Friday, June 4, 2010

Cardinals outfielder Matt Holliday, right, is congratulated by Colby Rasmus after hitting a solo home run Wednesday against the Reds in St. Louis.
(Jeff Roberson ~ Associated Press)
The team's struggling outfielder has batted .520 over the past week

ST. LOUIS -- When the season ends, St. Louis Cardinals manager Tony La Russa is confident the numbers will be there for Matt Holliday. Right now, all the signs are pointing up for the struggling slugger.

Holliday is batting a robust .520 the last seven games, with two homers and six RBIs. He's been more patient, too, drawing eight walks after only 14 his first 45 games.

La Russa recently tried swapping Holliday and Albert Pujols in the batting order, to little effect. It appears patience was the best course with the Cardinals' $120 million, seven-year investment.

"You take career stats similar at the end of the year, if he stays healthy he's going to be right around his average," La Russa said. "Which is a nice average and good production."

An average year the last four seasons for Holliday: a Pujols-like .325 average, 30 homers, 112 RBIs, 43 doubles.

One week does not a season make, considering that while Holliday is batting .310, his 24 RBIs are only fifth-best on the team. Even with the recent surge, he's batting a puny .215 (14 for 65) with runners in scoring position, and he's hit only two home runs at home.

But it appears he's stopped trying to force the action and begun to drive the ball instead of pounding it on the ground.

Holliday believes he's close.

"Pretty good. You put together at-bats where even if you get behind, you're still able to hit the ball on the barrel," Holliday said. "You start to feel like you can handle most of the pitches. It's a pretty good feeling."

The other half of the Pujols-Holliday combination is locking in at the same time. Pujols is 8 for 14 his last four games, jump-started by his fourth career three-homer game, on Sunday in Chicago.

That's led to some robust production lately from an offense that has lagged most of the year. The Cardinals totaled 29 runs in three games earlier in the week.

"Teams go through hard times, and we went through kind of a hard time and a lot was made of it," outfielder Ryan Ludwick said. "The guys on this team are plenty capable, and right now we're putting a run together."

Batting second just ahead of the big guns, Ludwick is among the league leaders with a .462 average with runners in scoring position, although he said the pitch pattern he sees doesn't change whether Pujols and Holliday are hot or cold. A chat with teammate Chris Carpenter, last year's NL ERA champion, backed up that thinking.

"He said if they have a report on you, they're going to pitch you on how the report says to pitch you," Ludwick said. "They're not going to lay fastballs in to hit just because you have Albert or Matt there."

Undoubtedly, there's a trickle-down effect.

"Albert and I both expect to do well," Holliday said. "It seems to help our offense when he and I are both swinging the bat well. When Albert's hot, he's the best player ever, and when the two of us are swinging the bats well, we need to score."

Holliday jumped to the head of the free-agent class last year when he batted .361 with 13 homers and 63 RBIs in 55 games with St. Louis after arriving in a trade with Oakland.

This year, his home-road splits (.351 road with four homers,.256 home with two homers) reflect some self-induced pressure.

When the offense was scuffling a few weeks ago, La Russa said Holliday was coming around. Now that talk doesn't seem to be coming out of the blue sky. La Russa calls Holliday a high-average hitter who just happens to be very strong.

"I don't care if he hits no home runs, we need him to hit .320 to .340," the manager said. "That would be great for us."

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