ST. LOUIS -- The sample size may still be too small to draw conclusions, but reliever Marc Rzepczynski finds encouragement not in recent results, but in feel.
Rzepczynski entered July with a 6.00 ERA, a figure bloated following a month in which his ERA was 9.39. He had enjoyed short spurts of success early in the year, but nothing sustained. Those summer struggles contributed to the Cardinals' issues in finding stable relief.
But the results have slowly turned. Since the beginning of July, Rzepczynski has held opponents scoreless in six appearances (four innings). He has struck out four, walked two and allowed three hits. The improvements, Rzepczynski said on Sunday, have been as much mental as mechanical.
"I just sat down in July and said I was going to relax," Rzepczynski said. "I just think I got to the point where when I was having a little bit of bad luck despite throwing the ball where I wanted to and still giving up some hits, it compiled into a little bit of frustration. I think I tried to do too much to get through it."
It's helped, too, that the command of Rzepczynski's sinker has returned, as has the life on his sinker. The latter has been the byproduct of the left-hander's recent shift to throwing the sinker harder.
"It's just basically going out there and relaxing and trusting my stuff like I did my entire career," Rzepczynski said. "When you go through ups and downs, you want to do too much, sometimes, and that's definitely where I was."
A return to old form could be critical for the Cardinals, who are still hopeful of seeing collective improvement in the 'pen. Rzepczynski and rookie Barret Browning are currently splitting the left-on-left matchups for manager Mike Matheny.
"He just needs to keep doing what he's been doing, because what he's doing now looks much more like the Rzepczynski we've seen in the past," Matheny said. "A lot of it has been work and preparation, and that turns into confidence, having positive results. That's one big ball that keeps rolling one way or another."
Jay comes alive with career-high four-hit day
ST. LOUIS -- Jon Jay had dug himself into a hole while batting .190 over the first 14 games of July, prompting Cardinals manager Mike Matheny to give him the day off on Friday. After spending some extra time in the cages on his off-day and going back to the basics, Jay seems to be back on track.
The Cardinals' center fielder collected a career-high four hits on Sunday in a 7-0 win over Chicago, including a two-run double in the first inning. Jay also knocked in two against the Cubs on Saturday and had back-to-back multi-RBI games for the first time this year.
"I always want the approach of, 'I'd rather get through it in the games,'" said Jay, who brought his average up to .304 on the year. "But sometimes the best thing to do is take a step back. That's what I did [Friday]."
Each of Jay's four hits Sunday went to left field and came against left-handers. He said he knows he is doing things right when he can drive the ball to the opposite field. Jay has been hitting lefties well this season, batting .327 in 49 at-bats.
Jay had missed more than a month starting in mid-May with a sore right shoulder, and is batting .253 since returning from the disabled list on June 22.
While Matheny believes Jay was struggling to find his timing on his swing, Jay said he couldn't figure out what was going on but did feel more confident at the plate the last two days.
"You know how baseball is," Jay said. "Some days you get pitches to hit, some days you don't. Sometimes the balls fall for you. You just have to take the good with the bad and that's what I've been doing. I understand that I got four hits today, but tomorrow's a new day and there's a lot games left, and I have to be ready for them all."
Schumaker setting high standard with RISP
ST. LOUIS -- For a club that has had its share of deficiencies with runners in scoring position, utility man Skip Schumaker continues to thrive most in those run-producing situations.
Schumaker's two extra-base hits in the Cardinals' 12-run seventh on Saturday pushed him to 15-for-30 with runners in scoring position this year. Only one player in the Majors has a batter batting average in such spots with at least 30 at-bats. That would be Milwaukee's Jonathan Lucroy.
Asked the secret behind that success, Schumaker shrugged.
"They're falling in," he said. "I can't tell you it's one thing or another. I wish I could pinpoint it, because I would do it every single time."
As a team, the Cardinals are batting .267 with runners in scoring position. And despite all the recent attention paid to the offense's woes, that batting average actually ranks third-best in the National League.
For Schumaker, the production has been rewarded with playing time. Though manager Mike Matheny kept Schumaker out of Sunday's lineup, Schumaker had started eight of the team's previous 10 games. During that span, he hit .407 with six RBIs.
The Cardinals still haven't settled on a permanent second baseman, though Schumaker will continue to earn regular starts as long as the production continues. His ability to move to center field is also an asset, as the club plans to spot Jon Jay periodic days off.
"I come to work to play," Schumaker said. "It doesn't matter if I'm in the lineup or not. I've been through this before. I know how to get ready for a game."
The Cardinals featured a different middle infield combo on Sunday than they did in the first two games of the series. Tyler Greene started at second, while Daniel Descalso made his fourth start of the season at shortstop.
Though Greene entered the year labeled as the team's backup shortstop, manager Mike Matheny said he decided to plug Greene in at second base instead because that is where the infielder has been doing most of his recent work.
The Dodgers' rotation for their upcoming series in St. Louis (which begins on Monday) lines up as follows: Chad Billingsley (4-9, 4.30 ERA), Clayton Kershaw (7-5, 2.74 ERA), Aaron Harang (7-5, 3.46 ERA) and Chris Capuano (10-5, 2.81 ERA).
Shortstop Ryan Jackson went 2-for-5 with four RBIs in Triple-A Memphis' win over Oklahoma City on Saturday. Nick Additon, who was activated off the disabled list before the game, made the start and pitched 3 2/3 scoreless innings. Down in Double-A, starter Seth Maness led Springfield to a victory with his seven-inning outing. Maness allowed one run on six hits and struck out six.
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, By Gosh, It's Langosch, and follow her on Twitter @LangoschMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.