Infielders Daniel Descalso and Mark Ellis have not enjoyed offensive seasons to remember.
St. Louis Cardinals manager Mike Matheny absorbed some of the blame Thursday, agreeing that the veterans need more time on the field to excel in their roles off the bench.
Descalso, batting .177 with no home runs and five RBIs, is 6-for-28 as a pinch-hitter (.214). Ellis, batting .190, is 3-for-12 in the pinch.
"We need Descalso in the field; we need Ellis in the field," Matheny said. "This past stretch here, almost since the All-Star break, has been awful for those guys. We're grinding and pushing and trying to ride the guys that are playing really well. Kolten (Wong) has been taking good at-bats and the other guys have been healthy.
"That's something we want to continue to be the case. But with all the off days, it just hasn't led to a lot of opportunity for these other guys. It's not fair to them, once we get them in there, to expect them to do much because they're not getting the chances. But that's where we are right now. We're in a dogfight."
Pinch-hitting, even in the best of times, isn't easy for a player. Even regulars struggle with it when called upon on days they don't start.
Descalso hasn't started a game since July 6 and is in a 3-for-22 since June 29. Ellis last started on July 20 and is 4-for-24 since July 2.
"They understand," Matheny said. "Both of them would love to be playing every day, and that's the way they should be going about their thought process. They've got the hand stacked against them to go in there and try to face a closer, try to face a setup guy in a big situation. It's a lot to ask."
Matheny said neither player has grumbled about his lack of use.
"They've been absolute pros about understanding the situation that they're in," he said. "But they want to play. If they didn't, we wouldn't want them here."
Good sign for Miller
Shelby Miller turned in another sparkling performance Wednesday in a no-decision against the Red Sox.
Miller worked seven innings and surrendered one run on four hits in the Cardinals' 2-1 loss. In his last three starts, covering 18 2/3 innings, Miller has permitted just 10 hits and one walk with 12 strikeouts and a 2.41 ERA.
Miller's improved control is of particular note considering he's made 12 starts in which he's walked at least three batters.
"I like what he's doing mechanically right now," Matheny said. "He's repeating (his delivery), and he looks in the sixth like he did in the second. You don't see him trying to generate extra to where his mechanics falls apart. I think that's probably been the biggest difference.
"Early on, he's been good and kind of got out of whack, for whatever reason. The first thing we go to is fatigue. That's why we tried to get him a little rest. Right now, he looks strong. Some of his best innings (Wednesday) were his last couple."
Masterson heads out
With the possibility of their game Thursday being delayed or perhaps postponed by rain, the Cardinals sent Justin Masterson to Baltimore on an early flight.
Masterson will start the series opener at Camden Yards at 6:05 p.m. Friday, facing Chris Tillman. Masterson will be followed by John Lackey at 3:05 p.m. Saturday and Lance Lynn at 12:35 p.m. Sunday.
Lackey already has made three starts against the Orioles and is 1-2 with a 7.02 ERA. Baltimore is in the American League East with Lackey's former team, the Boston Red Sox.
"It works for both sides," Matheny said. "They're very familiar with what he does, too. It just comes down to execution. We believe all our guys, against any team, gives us a good chance."
Matheny hinted again Thursday that the Cardinals could employ Matt Holliday, Jhonny Peralta and possibly Matt Adams as designated hitters in the weekend series in Baltimore to give them innings off the field.
"Those are guys that have been in there pretty consistently," Matheny said. "But it's going to be more of a matchup situation."
Baltimore hasn't officially listed its starting pitchers for Saturday and Sunday, although Ubaldo Jimenez and Kevin Gausman are listed on some websites.