ST. LOUIS -- Worried that his right arm might be fatigued from his 2011 workload, Cardinals reliever Fernando Salas has been both encouraged and relieved not only by his recent results, but with the way he is feeling.
The 27-year-old right-hander credits the return to form primarily to comfort. During his stint in the Minors, Salas passed a kidney stone that had been bothering him since December. While a doctor had identified the issue over the winter, Salas didn't necessarily understand the effect it was having on his performance earlier this year, because there wasn't much specific pain.
All Salas knew was that he didn't feel right.
But since returning from a May demotion to Triple-A, Salas has made five scoreless appearances. He allowed two baserunners in his first four innings and then worked around two hits and two walks in a two-inning outing in Sunday's extra-innings affair against the Royals.
The success is largely the result of crisper movement on Salas' fastball.
"I could pitch, but I didn't feel 100 percent," Salas said before Sunday's I-70 series finale against Kansas City. "I would throw a fastball and it would be flat. It had no life. I said, 'I don't know what's happening.' I didn't have any pain in my arm, but my fastball was flat. I didn't feel aggressive. I wanted to try, but my body wasn't working. But after my kidney stone [passed], when I woke up, I felt more and more energy. I'm more excited to play."
The energy, Salas explained, is particularly a welcome return. He said that there were times earlier this season that he'd be sitting in the bullpen feeling like he was going to fall asleep. Salas couldn't pinpoint the reason for such fatigue.
"I didn't know what was happening," Salas said. "I was not myself. I didn't feel aggressive. Now I feel much better. I'm feeling good."
The Cardinals entered the season anticipating that Salas would be one of the team's key late-inning relievers. If Salas can show enough consistency to move back into such a role, that could go a long way in helping settle a bullpen that still has several pitchers trying to solidify roles.
"It looks to me like he's finishing his pitches," manager Mike Matheny said. "There was definitely something going wrong before. We couldn't put our finger on it. He's making pitches now. He has to locate his fastball, and he has to have enough on his fastball to make his changeup good. That's what he's doing now."
Motte stung by another homer
ST. LOUIS -- Jason Motte suffered his fourth blown save on Sunday, and, in what has become too regular an occurrence, the right-hander was stung by the long ball.Billy Butler's two-out, two-strike blast off Motte tied Sunday's game at 2 in the ninth. The Royals eventually claimed the win, 5-3, in 15 innings. Last year at this time, Motte had thrown 28 1/3 innings and had not allowed a single homer. This season, the story has been different. Five home runs have already been hit off Motte in 31 2/3 innings. Twice a home run led to a blown save. In two other instances, Motte shouldered the loss as a result. Motte allowed just two home runs in 68 innings last year. And in 2010, five balls were hit out off him in 52 1/3 innings. "I don't even know," Motte said when asked about the concerning trend. "I don't know if it's more guessing, if they look more into me now that I've been around a couple years. But I think also that a lot of the home runs I have given up have been on pitches up." That was the case on Sunday, as Butler drove a waist-high fastball over the fence. The challenge in mending this problem, though, is that Motte isn't looking to stop pitching up in the strike zone. That's where he also gets a good number of swings and misses. It's often where his four-seam fastball is most effective. Motte also doesn't second-guess pitch selection, noting that he will continue to mix his cutter and fastball. The Cardinals' closer threw eight four-seam fastballs in the nine pitches before Butler's teed off, perhaps leaving Butler in position to correctly guess what was coming next. However, Butler had also just swung through one of those fastballs, clocked at the same 98 mph as the one he hit out. "Not that they know a fastball is coming, but I'm a fastball pitcher," Motte said. "I've had guys sit on it before and pop it right off. It's not the pitch. I'm going to keep throwing fastballs. I'm not going to all of a sudden become a curveball, knuckleball guy."
Cards plotting their DH plans for AL parks
ST. LOUIS -- Other than being matched up with some less familiar opponents, the Cardinals' Interleague schedule has forced little change in game and roster management thus far. That will change next week, when they play their first games of 2012 in American League parks.
A three-game series in Detroit, followed by another in Kansas City, will give manager Mike Matheny the task of including a designated hitter in his lineup for the next six games. Matheny said he intends to vary which players he uses as a DH, seeing it as an opportunity to give veteran players a break from playing defense, while keeping their bats in the lineup.
"Just basically looking at how guys are feeling," Matheny said. "I think the time off defensively will still help in the long run."
Allen Craig, Carlos Beltran and Matt Holliday are among those who Matheny listed as probable DH candidates.
The Cardinals have historically gotten above-average production from the DH spot since Interleague Play began in 1997. That spot has produced a .314 batting average, 24 doubles, 22 homers and 88 RBIs in 436 at-bats.
ST. LOUIS -- A trio of players from the Cardinals' High-A Palm Beach club helped lead the Florida State League South stars over the North, 6-3, in Saturday's All-Star Game.
Outfielder Mike O'Neill started and led off for the South club -- finishing with two walks and a run scored. Palm Beach infielder Starling Rodriguez also scored a run in the win. Lefty Anthony Ferrara Jr., was one of only two South pitchers used who did not allow a baserunner in his inning of work. Ferrara breezed through the sixth in nine pitches.
Other notes from around the Cardinals' farm system:
Top pitching prospect Shelby Miller took his fourth consecutive loss with Triple-A Memphis in a rocky 4 2/3 start on Saturday. Miller surrendered seven hits, seven runs (five earned) and another home run. It was the 15th home run he's allowed in 66 innings.
Miller, who walked three and struck out three in the outing, has not finished six innings in any of his last six starts.
Kolten Wong, the team's top pick in the 2011 First-Year Player Draft, bumped his season RBI total to 30 with three in Double-A Springfield's win on Saturday. Wong, who went 2-for-5 in the game, is batting .302 through 61 games.
Short-season Batavia (N.Y.) and the Gulf Coast League Cardinals will begin their respective seasons on Monday. The Cardinals' rookie league affiliate in Johnson City (Tenn.) opens play at home on Tuesday.
Matheny pulled Matt Holliday for a pinch-runner in the eighth inning on Sunday due to what the manager described as "a little something going on" with one of Holliday's legs. The issue, Matheny said, was brought to the attention of the staff before the game, though Holliday said he could play through it. Holliday finished the game with two hits -- including his 12th homer -- and a walk.
Though the off-day on Monday provides the Cardinals with the option of skipping their fifth starter this next time through the rotation, the organization plans to give right-hander Joe Kelly another start on schedule. Kelly has two no-decisions in his first two Major League starts. He allowed three runs (two earned) on seven hits in 4 1/3 innings on Saturday.
Skip Schumaker (right hamstring strain) remains on track to join the club in Detroit next week. He and Matt Carpenter (right oblique strain) are both in the middle of rehab assignments with Triple-A Memphis. Schumaker played nine innings at second base on Sunday and finished 0-for-4. Carpenter was hitless in three at-bats. He played seven innings in right field.
Shortstop Rafael Furcal and catcher Yadier Molina were out of the starting lineup on Sunday despite both feeling physically well. Matheny targeted this final game of the homestand against the Royals as an opportunity to get both much-needed rest.
The Cardinals are set to face Justin Verlander and Rick Porcello in the first two games of their upcoming series in Detroit. The Tigers have not yet named a starter for the final game of the three-game series.
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.