ST. LOUIS — Summarizing a 5-6 road trip to Milwaukee, Washington and New York wasn't difficult Friday for St. Louis Cardinals manager Mike Matheny.
"I think we're still a little sloppy right now overall. I think our guys would admit that," said a matter-of-fact Matheny, whose team scored three runs or less in seven of the last nine games on the trip, including the final five. "You're seeing some plays that aren't being made that typically we make, some opportunities we usually capitalize on.
"It's not just the big hit with two outs and runners in scoring position. It's getting guys over, getting them in, things we pride ourselves in. We consider those little things that we can do right on a nightly basis."
Much of the focus, understandably, has been on the offense.
The Cardinals have just three everyday players hitting with consistency in Yadier Molina (.367), first baseman Matt Adams (.325) and third baseman Matt Carpenter (.282). Center fielder Jon Jay, seeing more playing time lately, is batting .300.
Still scuffling are shortstop Jhonny Peralta (.151), center fielder Peter Bourjos (.174), right fielder Allen Craig (.179) and left fielder Matt Holliday (.244). St. Louis is batting .234 with runners in scoring position; it led the majors in clutch hitting in 2013 (.330).
"Obviously, not scoring runs is always a frustrating experience," Cardinals General Manager John Mozeliak said. "But I believe these hitters are very good hitters, and in time, we'll start producing the runs. But I feel like sometimes when we focus on something, it just gets that much worse. ... You look at this team (and) they've all historically hit, and I believe they will."
Mozeliak doesn't foresee any roster changes, not even to add more pop off the bench. Outfielder Joey Butler, 28, began Friday batting .431 (22-for-51) with three home runs and 12 RBIs at Memphis
"Where are you going to play him? Are you going to bench Holliday?" Mozeliak said. "When you bring up somebody to jump-start your offense and you're talking like three or four at-bats a week, I just don't know if that's your answer."
On the positive side, Cardinals starting pitchers logged a 1.20 ERA (nine earned runs in 67 1/3 innings).
"We had some terrific pitching that was overshadowed by the fact that we couldn't get the offense going," Matheny said. "You're going to have runs like that through the year. Unfortunately, it's starting for us that way."
Matheny maintains confidence in his lineup, and he hopes a six-game homestand will help the Cardinals shake their drought.
"We just need a little success, which does breed that confidence, which breeds more success," Matheny said. "I keep saying we're close. I wouldn't just be blowing smoke here. That's truly what I believe. We have too many guys who are right there and have done it for too long. It's just a matter of time."
Motte still working
Former closer Jason Motte remains in extended spring training in Jupiter, Fla. Mozeliak said a rehab assignment is drawing near.
"I would anticipate, when the calendar turns to May, at some point we'll then contemplate a rehab assignment in a more robust environment," he said. "But at this point, just being able to pitch every couple of days is probably in the best interest of him right now.
"He just needs to be contining to work on getting his velocity back and his command back. As he does that, then he inches closer to where we start to concern ourselves with the competition."
Mozeliak said Motte is throwing between 92 and 94 mph, indications that he is almost recovered from Tommy John surgery. The team hasn't yet determined a role for Motte.
"He has to get himself back to major-league ready," Mozeliak said. "Until he's ready to do that, it's hard to imagine where he fits in with us. Once he starts to show the velocity and the command, we'll then step up where we would put him on a rehab at some point. Put him at a higher level and then give him specific innings."
Starting pitcher Joe Kelly remains sidelined with a strained left hamstring, but he's making progress.
Kelly (1-1, 0.59 ERA in three starts) has been able to throw off flat ground from about 150 feet, but he almost certainly will not be ready to return Friday, the earliest date he could be activated.
"It's getting better every day, and I'm feeling better every single day, so it's progressing well," Kelly said. "Walking is fine. The swelling is gone. No more bruising, so it's good. I'm just going to keep going to the trainers and doing all my rehab stuff. I'm looking forward to getting back."
Kelly, a restless sort, said not being on the road trip was an agonizing experience.
"It's definitely something I don't like having," Kelly said of the injury. "It's kind of irritating when you want to be out there pitching, especially on long road trips like the guys just had. It's frustrating when you know you're not doing anything to help them."
Matheny said the Cardinals are being cautious with Kelly.
"He's been consistently making long-toss throws and he's even worked on some altered lower-body workouts," Matheny said. "There's a program that's been put into place. He wouldn't be throwing if there were any concerns.
"We're not putting him in a position where he could be injured any worse. It's nice that he can keep his arm in shape. They're not in any hurry to get him running full-speed any time soon."