Beltran hitting his stride despite back stiffness, bout with flu

News-DemocratMay 1, 2013 

— During the last week, Carlos Beltran has had a stiff back and the flu.

Through it all, he's emerged as one of the St. Louis Cardinals' hottest hitters. Since Friday, the 36-year-old right fielder is 8-for-21 (.381) with three home runs and five RBIs.

Beltran hit his team-leading seventh homer of the season Wednesday, a bases-empty shot in the fourth inning against Homer Bailey in the Cardinals' 4-2 win over Cincinnati.

"It feels great any time you take a win off a team that's in your division," said Beltran, who has one-third of the team's homers. "So being able to take two out of three against Cincinnati feels good.

"I feel good at the plate; I'm seeing the ball good. I'm not really trying to hit homers. It's just one of those streaks as a hitter where every ball you hit is in the air and has the distance to be a homer. I just need to continue to have good at-bats."

That's what manager Mike Matheny is seeing from Beltran on a daily basis, and it's a thing of beauty considering the Cardinals haven't yet reached their full offensive potential.

"You can tell his timing's right," Matheny said, noting a handful of other at-bats when Beltran narrowly missed home runs.

"He feels good," he said. "He pushed through a little bit there when we were in Washington. (He was) a little bit tight in the back. The medical team got their hands on him and did a nice job bringing him back around. He never really missed a bit."

Beltran has a history of injuries and the Cardinals have insisted they will look for opportunites to rest Beltran. Yet Beltran is the only Cardinal who has appeared in all 27 games.

Beltran was removed from the game against Pittsburgh after six innings Sunday because of the flu. But he pinch-hit Monday and remained in the game, then started Tuesday and Wednesday.

"I was sick, but I try to play (through) that," said Beltran, who's batting .304 with 18 RBIs. "I really love to be in the lineup. That's all I can say. ... It's about feeling good at the plate. Even though you're sick, you're seeing the baseball and trying hard to put a good swing on the baseball."

Matt Carpenter also was seeing the ball well Wednesday. Playing third base, Carpenter was 3-for-4 with two doubles and an RBI.

Carpenter, Pete Kozma and Daniel Descalso chimed in with consecutive run-scoring singles in the sixth inning against Homer Bailey as the Cardinals snapped a 1-1 tie.

"That was big," Carpenter said. "That's what we know we're capable of doing --putting together consistent, quality at-bats back-to-back-to back. That was a great example of that.

"We know what kind of offense we have. I know people are wondering what the matter is, but we know we're going to keep grinding and things are going to work out for us. It's going to come. We've got too many good hitters."

Beltran expects more consistency from the offense. But for now, he said the Cardinals' starting pitching deserves the bulk of the credit. The rotation's ERA fell slightly to 2.11 on Wednesday.

"I think our starting pitchers have really been the MVP of April for us," Beltran said. "They really have given us the opportunity to win ballgames. Without them, it's very difficult for the offense to win ballgames. So they're really keeping us in the game."

Matheny acknowledges he's not "the great historian," but he can't recall being around more effective starting pitching than the Cardinals have shown through the first month of the season.

"I'll tell you it's been as good as any I've seen," he said. "They've been just going about their work. It's a workmanlike attitude with our starters. They challenge each other. It's a great atmosphere among the starters. They take that on to the bench and actually become our cheerleaders during the game and keep the energy high.

"They enjoy trying to get the best out of everybody else. It's just infectious. When the starters are going well, at least on this club, you're going to see a pretty good personality to the team."

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