CHICAGO -- Despite hitting safely in nine of the 14 games he has appeared in since the All-Star break, outfielder Carlos Beltran has not looked -- and admits that he has not felt -- like the player he was for the first half of the season. And no, one home run on Sunday hasn't entirely changed that.
Describing this recent stretch of diluted production as one of the normal valleys a player goes through during the course of the season, Beltran admitted that his timing has been hit or miss for much of the month. Sunday was a microcosm of that.
After not looking comfortable in his first three at-bats, Beltran belted a game-tying homer in the eighth. He flied out in his final plate appearance, though the contact he made on that swing was also perceived as encouraging.
"He's getting close," manager Mike Matheny said. "The home run, obviously, looks good, but the ball he hit on his last at-bat right-handed was also on the screws, and he just missed it. He's getting closer."
Beltran's 23rd home run snapped an 0-for-13 skid.
"This thing is not going to change in one day," he said afterward. "You just need to get going and it'll come back. It's as simple as that."
After entering the All-Star break with a National League-leading 65 RBIs and 20 homers, Beltran has hit .204 with eight RBIs, 14 strikeouts and only one walk in 14 games since. He struck out three times on Saturday.
Matheny sat Beltran on Thursday and Friday with the hope of jump-starting the veteran outfielder.
"I'm just having a tough time at the plate right now," Beltran said. "Right now, I feel behind [in the count] right away. It'll change. Every player goes [stretches] where things don't go the way you want them to. You just have to deal with it. You have to fight it."
Furcal dealing with lower back stiffness
CHICAGO -- Rafael Furcal remained out of the starting lineup for a second straight day on Sunday with what the Cardinals are describing as lower back stiffness.
Furcal said after Sunday's 4-2 loss to the Cubs that the issue first surfaced on Friday. What began as tightness in his lower back also led to a tingling sensation down his leg, which prompted the Cardinals to keep Furcal inactive all weekend. He has been receiving extensive treatment for the past two days.
"It's getting better," Furcal said. "I'd rather miss two games than have to go 15 [days on the disabled list]."
He added that he would "probably" be cleared to play in the team's upcoming series against the Rockies, which begins on Tuesday.
Furcal has had back troubles before, though manager Mike Matheny said that he has been advised by the medical staff that this bout of stiffness appears to be unrelated to any previous ailment. Furcal underwent back surgery in 2008 and landed on the disabled list with a lower back strain in 2010.
"We have to keep paying attention to it to see if it loosens up again over the next couple days," Matheny said.
Earning a second straight start at shortstop in place of Furcal on Sunday was Daniel Descalso, who has moved in front of Tyler Greene on the depth chart at the position. The Cardinals prefer that Greene focus his defensive work at second base.
After missing the first two games of the series due to right calf tightness, David Freese returned to the field on Sunday. The Cardinals' offense could use his presence, too. Freese raised his batting average from .261 on June 9 to .314 by hitting .394 in his previous 38 games entering Sunday. His 28 two-out RBIs rank second in the National League.
Major League Baseball's non-waiver Trade Deadline is 3 p.m. CT on Tuesday, and to this point, the Cardinals have not pulled the trigger on any deals. The organization continues to eye upgrades for the rotation and the bullpen, though not with the same urgency as other clubs.
The Rockies have set their rotation for the Cardinals' upcoming visit to Coors Field. Jeff Francis (3-2, 4.97 ERA) will start the series opener on Tuesday. Drew Pomeranz (1-6, 4.99 ERA) and Christian Friedrich (5-8, 6.17 ERA) are slated to pitch the other two games of the series.
The Cardinals took three out of four from the Rockies in a series at Busch Stadium earlier this month.
Class A Advanced Palm Beach recorded a season-high 23 hits in its 12-0 win over Tampa on Saturday. Outfielder Mike O'Neill and designated hitter Starlin Rodriguez each had four hits. James Ramsey, a 2012 first-round Draft pick, had three hits and three RBIs.
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.