Beltran stuck in frustrating slump

SAN DIEGO – Watching Carlos Beltran struggle the past two months has become an unfriendly reminder for Cardinals manager Mike Matheny of just how tough hitting Major League pitching can be.

Matheny, a career .239 hitter in 13 big league seasons, had several stretches similar to the one his All-Star right fielder currently finds himself in. Beltran is hitting just .199 since in 58 games since July 1 as he searches for any kind of rhythm at the plate.

“I see a lot of things that I remember about how hard this game is, how hard it is to hit and keep that good thing going,” Matheny said.

“I’m sure with him, in the first half he was on a great roll but once it kind of leaves you it’s difficult to get back.

“He’s working and fighting. You can see some signs that he’s getting close. He’s just going to keep working and he’ll get there.”

Beltran was out of Wednesday afternoon’s lineup against the San Diego Padres after an 0-for-4 night Tuesday dropped his batting average to .260, the lowest it’s been since May. He’s struck out 111 times this year and is on pace for his most strikeouts since whiffing a career most 135 in 2002.

The switch hitter hit .310 with 20 home runs and 61 RBI in April, May and June but went cold in a big way once the calendar turned to July.

He’s hitting .199 with just nine home runs and 26 RBI in more than two months since.

Beltran has dealt with a variety of ailments to his knees throughout the season but reiterated Wednesday that his prolonged slump has nothing to do with how he feels.

“For me physically I feel fine,” Beltran said. “I was dealing with knee issues early in the year but now I feel great. Just timing wise at the plate I feel like I’m behind on the fastball and ahead of the breaking pitches. It’s just one of those things that happens.

“It is frustrating but I need to come here every day and prepare myself and do what I can control, and that’s put in the work.”

Added Matheny, “I think there were a couple periods of time where it wasn’t feeling good right in the middle of what he’s got going on right now, I don’t think he can ever deny that was an impact. But overall its just a matter of getting it straightened out now.”

Matheny said he’s contemplated moving Beltran down in the lineup in recent weeks.  He’s hitting just .131 (8-for-61) in 17 games since Aug. 23. He has just one home run since Aug. 10, a span of 26 games.

Beltran has hit either second or fourth pretty much the entire season but a drop to lower in the order could take off some of the pressure until he gets his swing back to where he wants it.

Taking an extended break for much longer than Wednesday’s day off doesn’t appear to be an option Beltran would be in favor of as he looks to end his frustrating stretch at the plate.

“The only way it’s going to come back is by playing games,” Beltran said.

If Beltran doesn’t start getting it going quickly, Matheny and the Cardinals could be left with a tough decision to make in the near future. Matt Carpenter entered Wednesday’s game hitting .302 in 98 games.