Cardinals lean on pitching while offense continues to sputter

Shelby Miller allowed just three hits and and struck out four over 5 2/3 innings to pick up his first win over the Pirates.

ST. LOUIS — Hitting has not been a strength of the Cardinals so far this season, especially timely hitting.

But Matt Holliday is doing his part in the clutch department. Holliday drove in the only run of the game Friday night at Busch Stadium against the Pirates with a first-inning double that scored Matt Carpenter, who had led off with a bunt single and moved to second on a groundout.

Holliday upped his average with runners in scoring position to .409 (9 for 22), best on the Cardinals. He also singled twice for his second three-hit game of the week and walked while raising his batting average to .271 and his OBP to .374.

Again, though, it was pitching that carried the Cardinals, with more than a little help from the defense. The way manager Mike Matheny sees it, though, the offense will have its turn carrying the team sooner or later.

"We win games like this, it’s nice because we know the offense is coming," Matheny said. "When we can have that kind of pitching performance to let us have a win when runs are so tough to come by, those are going to pay off down the line when we are stacking up some runs for our pitchers."

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3 UP

— Shelby Miller. Four walks indicate his command was off again, but Miller controlled one aspect of his pitching: He kept the ball down enough to keep the Pirates from hitting it in the air. Of the 17 outs he recorded in working 5 2/3 scoreless innings, 11 came by grounders.

Another key for Miller was not being hurt by Pedro Alvarez, who homered off him twice earlier this month. Miller walked Alvarez to lead off the second, struck him out in the fourth and, with first base open and one out in the sixth, got him on a routine fly to left with a runner on second.

— Jhonny Peralta. A double to the fence in left field ended an 0-for-22 skid and a single in the eighth gave him his fifth multi-hit game, but it was his defense that proved largest. With the Cardinals already having scored their run, the Pirates loaded the bases and had one out with NL MVP Andrew McCutchen at the plate. McCutchen drilled what appeared would be a run-scoring single up the middle, but Peralta stabbed the one-hopper and started an inning-ending 6-4-3 that kept the Cardinals in front.

— The bullpen. This is how the Cardinals like for it to work: Pat Neshek got the last out of the sixth, Kevin Siegrist worked a three-up, three-down seventh and Carlos Martinez took care of the eighth, although with a little adventure. Then, with his fastball reaching 98 mph, Trevor Rosenthal struck out the side in the ninth for his seventh save in seven chances. He ended the game with a curveball, however, that Gaby Sanchez took for strike three and got his first strikeout on a "filthy change-up" — Matheny’s description — to Ike Davis.

3 DOWN

— Allen Craig’s luck. Not once, not twice, but three times Craig hit the ball hard enough to get a hit but came away with an 0-for-4 because of the Pirates’ defense. This is how it seems to go when you’re hitting .170: Craig came up with runners on second and third and two out in the fifth, and got ahead in the count 3-0. He took a strike and then fouled back what looked like a good pitch to hit. Then he hit a fly to right that had the crowd of 43,193 cheering, but it landed just a few feet foul. Finally, he laced a liner to left center that McCutchen caught while sliding to end the threat.

— Kolten Wong. Like Craig, he also went 0 for 4 as his batting average fell to .225. Unlike Craig, however, Wong did not get the ball out of the infield. With the Pirates scheduled to start lefty Francisco Liriano on Saturday afternoon, look for Mark Ellis to start at second base.

— Joe Kelly’s chances of starting next Friday. He said before the game that his ailing hamstring is improving but added he hasn’t started running and still can feel a pull when doing some activities. Kelly doesn’t know when he will start throwing off a mound, which makes him very unlikely to come off the disabled list when he’s first eligible in a week. Left-hander Tyler Lyons is set to make his second start in Kelly’s place Saturday afternoon.

You can follow Stan McNeal on Twitter at @stanmcneal or email him at stanmcneal@gmail.com.