PHOENIX — The Diamondbacks’ sputtering first month would be more of a concern if it was less familiar.
Slow start. Momentum shift. All-in belief.
The D-backs followed those steps to the NL West title last season.
No one is saying it is the way to go, or even the preferred way.
But it is a way, it has worked in the past and the D-backs may have to rely on it again after falling three games under .500 for the first time this season after a 6-1 loss to St. Louis on Tuesday.
The D-backs’ losing streak reached four games and Ian Kennedy’s reached two when the D-backs did not score until the ninth inning. For the second time in five games, they did not get a hit with a runner in scoring position, scoring only when Miguel Montero doubled in Justin Upton from first base in the ninth.
“We’ve struggled at the plate, plain and simple,” manager Kirk Gibson said.
The D-backs (14-17) have lost six of their past seven and are 8 for their past 50 with runners in scoring position as the offense works through the loss of hot-starter Chris Young.
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“We have to get our confidence back,” Upton said.
It has happened before. The D-backs opened 14-17 last year and hit rock bottom during a West Coast road trip in mid-May in which they lost five consecutive one-run games with similarly limited offensive production to fall to 15-22.
Josh Collmenter began the turnaround with a 1-0 victory over Los Angeles in his first major league start May 14 at Dodger Stadium, beginning a stretch in which the D-backs won 15 of the next 17 games to not only get back in the race but a build a belief system that took them all the way to the NL West title.
In many ways, the D-backs have done as much with less so far this season. Major contributors Chris Young and Daniel Hudson have missed three weeks with right shoulder injuries, and Stephen Drew is still recovering from his fractured right ankle. Upton was hampered by a bone bruise in his thumb the first couple of weeks.
Young and Hudson may return by the end of the month, although there are no timetables, only guarded estimates. Drew may not return until early June. All have been missed. Young remains tied for second on the team with 13 RBI despite missing the past 20 games. The D-backs will not use injuries as an excuse, but they are a factor.
St. Louis starter Jake Westbrook did not make it any easier on the D-backs with the movement he got on his fastball and his off-speed stuff, limiting the D-backs to four singles in seven innings — and two of those hits did not get out of the infield. Aaron Hill had half the D-backs’ six hits.
Carlos Beltran drove in all six Cardinals runs with two home runs off Kennedy, the first on a curveball with a runner on in the first and the second on a fastball with the bases loaded in the second. Beltran, who signed as the nominal big bat to replace departed free agent Albert Pujols, has 10 home runs.
Kennedy had a 10-game home winning streak broken, and he has now lost two straight starts for the first time since the middle of 2010. He retired the final 13 batters he faced while going seven innings, but that was little consolation.
“This really sucks, when you feel that you put your team down in a big, big hole. It’s my responsibility,” Kennedy said.
After a 3-7 home stand in which Young, Hudson and Geoff Blum were placed on the disabled list, the D-backs started their recent road trip on an uptick by taking three of four games from Miami. But they have lost all three series since.
“In Miami, I thought we were going to get out of it. We really haven’t dug ourselves out of the hole we put ourselves in,” Kennedy said.
“We’ve had injuries, which doesn’t really help. We have some guys, we have to pick them up. I try to do the best I possibly can, too. Guys are going to get healthy. Guys are going to start hitting better. We have to pick each other up. That’s what a team does.”
Gibson likes what he sees in the clubhouse even during a so-so start.
“There is nobody pointing any fingers. That part of our makeup, . . . that’s what helped us last year and that’s what will help us this year. The only way it (recovery) is going to happen is if we take control of it. There are no excuses. We know we’re better. We know we can be better. We can’t beat it into each other,” Gibson said.
“You have to enjoy it all, and we do. We’re a good team. We have good makeup. We’ll get on track. Right now, we’re scuffling a little bit. But guys are working hard and there is a very good determination around the clubhouse. Sometimes you just have to suck it up and let them (opponents) have their fun.