CINCINNATI -- The Cardinals don't expect to fully replace Yadier Molina's bat while the catcher allows his balky knee to heal.
After all, Tony Cruz, who will assume much of the responsibility behind the plate in Molina's absence, totes a .288 on-base percentage with one home run and 25 RBIs in 255 career at-bats.
Cruz, however, tallied three hits and two RBIs in Thursday's victory in Pittsburgh. So perhaps the Cardinals won't miss a beat with their All-Star backstop on the shelf. Right?
Not so fast.
"The offense is just a bonus," said St. Louis skipper Mike Matheny, who lauded Cruz's exploits behind the plate, not at the dish.
Matheny enjoyed the rapport Cruz demonstrated with starting pitcher Joe Kelly, who tossed six scoreless innings on Thursday. The manager hopes the rest of the club's hurlers trust Cruz and his ability to call a game and manage a staff.
"We need the rest of this staff to put faith in the fact that Tony knows what he's doing," Matheny said.
Matheny knows Cruz and Rob Johnson likely won't match Molina's production in the batter's box, but the former catcher hopes his current crop of backstops can keep the club's pitching in order.
"There's no question that Yadi is a big part of our team," Matheny said. "There's no question that he's a big part of our offense. But more importantly, to our pitching staff, they need to know that Tony has been paying attention and is ready to jump in and help out however he can."
Lyons, Rodriguez earn Minor League honors
CINCINNATI -- Tyler Lyons capped the month of July with a quality start for the Cardinals in Pittsburgh. For his contributions at Triple-A Memphis earlier on the calendar, he earned the distinction of the organization's Minor League Pitcher of the Month.
Jonathan Rodriguez, a first baseman at Class A Palm Beach, was named Minor League Player of the Month.
Lyons tossed six innings in the second tilt of Wednesday's doubleheader at PNC Park. He allowed three runs and took the loss. In six July starts at Memphis, however, he compiled a 3-0 record and 1.50 ERA with 33 strikeouts in 33 2/3 innings. His 0.68 WHIP ranked fourth among all Minor League hurlers.
The Cardinals' ninth-round selection in the 2010 First-Year Player Draft, Lyons only yielded more than three hits in one of his July outings for the Redbirds. In seven starts with St. Louis, the 25-year-old southpaw has posted a 2-4 record and 5.35 ERA.
"Tyler has really done an outstanding job of applying the experiences he obtained at the Major League level earlier this year into making him even more effective at Memphis," said John Vuch, the Cardinals director of Minor League operations. "His improved command of all of his pitches has allowed him to pitch deeper into games and enabled him to have a great deal of success against both left and righty hitters."
Rodriguez, a 17th-round Draft choice in 2009, is batting .298 with 11 home runs, 58 RBIs, an .861 OPS and a career-high 17 stolen bases in 96 games for Palm Beach. Rodriguez batted .382 (34-for-89) with six homers and 28 RBIs in July. He tallied 11 multi-hit games, including a contest in which he clubbed a pair of homers, one of which was his first career grand slam. The 23-year-old started at designated hitter in the Florida State League All-Star Game.
"Jonathan really put together a tremendous, well-rounded month," Vuch said. "His combination of power, run production and ability to get on base made him a clear choice for the award. He's improved in all areas of his games, and in addition to his offense has made himself a better baserunner and defensive player."
With losing streak behind them, Cards stay positive
CINCINNATI -- Over the last week, the knot in Mike Matheny's stomach kept growing more and more painful.
Each morning, the manager said, he awoke with a sharp pain in his gut, an ache he couldn't explain until he remembered the result from the previous night: another Cardinals loss.
"Every loss is gut-wrenching," Matheny said. "Especially when they start to compound. ... You wake up with that knot and you go, 'What was that for?' And you go, 'Oh yeah.'"
St. Louis snapped its seven-game skid with a resounding, 13-0, triumph in Pittsburgh on Thursday. Matheny has stressed to his team to never get too high or too low during the ebbs and flows of a season. Now that the season-long losing streak is in the rearview mirror, the team is poised to demonstrate how they learned from their slumber.
"You learn a lot more about your team when you're struggling," said veteran hurler Jake Westbrook.
Matheny said the Cardinals took each loss equally as hard during the week-long funk, which included a three-game sweep at the hands of Atlanta before four straight defeats in Pittsburgh. St. Louis tumbled from the top spot in the National League Central and entered its weekend series at Cincinnati facing a 1 1/2-game deficit in the division.
"It was like a morgue in the clubhouse," the skipper said.
Each day, however, that somber setting morphed into an upbeat one. Matheny identified it as a sign of a winning team.
"It was like they had amnesia, forgot everything and realized today's the day we can right this," Matheny said. "We can't do it by dragging."
There was no morgue-like atmosphere following Thursday's win. And Matheny woke up on Friday knot-free.
"It was a big deal," he said. "When you do get one, especially in the fashion we did, it definitely tastes pretty good."
• Entering Friday's action, the top two winning percentages in the National League came from the Central Division. Pittsburgh entered play with a .602 mark, followed by the Cardinals' .589 mark. The Reds checked in fourth at .550.
"I'm not surprised by it," said pitcher Jake Westbrook. "It's definitely a tough division. We definitely have our work cut out for us."
• The Cardinals could go hitless in their next 131 at-bats with runners in scoring position and still boast the Majors' best batting average with runners in scoring position. The team's .335 average is the best with runners in scoring position in more than 50 years, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.
• After its 13-0 win on Thursday, St. Louis is now 14-0 when it scores 10 or more runs in a game.