KANSAS CITY -- Survival for hitters on the Major League level often boils down to being able to counter as pitchers adjust to tendencies. That, Allen Craig said, is what has largely consumed his time over the past few weeks.
Craig's recent slide at the plate coincided with pitchers attacking him with an overabundance of sliders. Those fastballs that Craig had been able to tee off on earlier this season were suddenly coming with less regularity. And Craig's numbers showed the effects of a player working to adjust.
"They're not going to give me fastballs," Craig said. "I would say for the past three weeks it's been a lot more sliders, especially with runners in scoring position. I'm still learning. I'm making adjustments on the fly, seeing what works and what doesn't work, and just battling."
That approach paid off on Saturday, when Craig battled in an eight-pitch at-bat in the seventh inning until he got a slider that he was able to drive into the left-field stands. Five of the pitches Royals reliever Greg Holland threw to Craig during that at-bat were sliders.
Craig laid off two of them that were outside the strike zone. He then fouled off two more. Craig let a fastball go that was off the plate before creaming the next slider.
"You learn which sliders you can hit and which you can't, when to be aggressive and when to back off a little bit," said Craig, who was 2-for-22 before that home run. "It's a learning process. It's more about just making adjustments and trying to figure out what they're doing to me."
While the percentages are more skewed over the past few weeks, even the season numbers reflect the change of approach pitchers are taking against Craig. Of the pitches Craig saw last season, 18.4 percent were sliders. That number in 2012 is 22.3 percent. The percentage of fastballs thrown to Craig has decreased from 56 to 52.9 in the same span.
Holliday's offensive numbers keep rising
KANSAS CITY -- Matt Holliday's season has been interrupted by a nagging hip flexor issue and various periods of trying to find his way at the plate. He hasn't had a dominant stretch or breakout week that others in the Cardinals' lineup have enjoyed. But quietly, Holliday is pushing his numbers back toward career levels.
With four hits on Saturday, Holliday ended the day with a season average of .297, the highest it's been in 2012. He has hit .343 in 18 games this month and ranks among the top 10 National League outfielders in several categories: batting average, RBIs (45), home runs (12), on-base percentage (.376) and slugging percentage (.494).
"Those are All-Star numbers and he hasn't really been as hot or anywhere close to as hot as he can be," manager Mike Matheny said. "It's kind of scary to think how good it's going to be once he gets going."
He's been considerably better than those season numbers over the past seven games. During that span, Holliday has hit .552 with five doubles, two homers and 10 RBIs.
The upward trend in results doesn't appear to be random, either. It coincides with a mechanical change that he first incorporated into his swing during a batting cage session that Holliday had with hitting coaches Mark McGwire and John Mabry late in the team's most recent homestand.
Holliday has had only one hitless game since.
Descalso second to none of late for Cards
KANSAS CITY -- The Cardinals' fluid situation at second base has settled in recent days, with Daniel Descalso earning all but one of the starts during six of the team's last seven games.
Noting that Descalso "deserves to be in there" based on his defensive work and recent offensive success, manager Mike Matheny added that, "We're a better team right now with him in there."
During the seven-game stretch leading into Sunday, Descalso had seven hits in 19 at-bats, boosting his season average to .245. The only time it had been higher this season was after the team's second game in April. In the field, Descalso has committed just two errors since April 17.
While Tyler Greene earned the majority of second base starts to begin the year, that distribution has trended in Descalso's favor for a while now. In fact, Descalso leaped Greene in the number of season at-bats (151 to 149) on Saturday.
Sunday's decision to start Descalso over Greene was telling, too, because it came against a lefty starter -- KC's Jonathan Sanchez. Greene has drawn most such starts this season.
Knowing they couldn't overexert Jon Jay immediately, the Cardinals had planned for Sunday to be a day off for the outfielder as far back as Friday, when Jay was activated off the disabled list. After missing more than a month due to a right shoulder injury, Jay played in only two Minor League rehab games before being rushed back. That left the Cards hesitant to push Jay into making too many consecutive starts this week.
With Royals left-hander Jonathan Sanchez starting on Sunday, the Cards felt this would be the best day of the three-game series to sit Jay.
After weeks of bouncing Carlos Beltran between the two-hole and cleanup spot, Matheny suggested on Sunday that Beltran will settle into the fourth spot in the batting order now that the all of the position players except Lance Berkman are off the disabled list.
Most of the at-bats in the second spot of the lineup are likely to go to Jay.
The Cardinals are set to face Ricky Nolasco, (6-6, 5.16 ERA), Carlos Zambrano (4-5, 3.92 ERA) and Anibal Sanchez (3.6, 3.94 ERA) in their upcoming series in Miami. The Marlins entered Sunday's action having lost six straight and nine of 10.
Pitching prospect Trevor Rosenthal picked up his sixth win for Double-A Springfield with a five-inning, scoreless start on Saturday. Rosenthal struck out four and allowed only two hits. His 2.85 season ERA is second-best in the Texas League.
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.