ST. LOUIS -- The sample size may still be too small to draw conclusions, but reliever Marc Rzepczynski finds encouragement not in recent results, but in feel.
Rzepczynski entered July with a 6.00 ERA, a figure bloated following a month in which his ERA was 9.39. He had enjoyed short spurts of success early in the year, but nothing sustained. Those summer struggles contributed to the Cardinals' issues in finding stable relief.
But the results have slowly turned. Since the beginning of July, Rzepczynski has held opponents scoreless in six appearances (four innings). He has struck out four, walked two and allowed three hits. The improvements, Rzepczynski said on Sunday, have been as much mental as mechanical.
"I just sat down in July and said I was going to relax," Rzepczynski said. "I just think I got to the point where when I was having a little bit of bad luck despite throwing the ball where I wanted to and still giving up some hits, it compiled into a little bit of frustration. I think I tried to do too much to get through it."
It's helped, too, that the command of Rzepczynski's sinker has returned, as has the life on his sinker. The latter has been the byproduct of the left-hander's recent shift to throwing the sinker harder.
"It's just basically going out there and relaxing and trusting my stuff like I did my entire career," Rzepczynski said. "When you go through ups and downs, you want to do too much, sometimes, and that's definitely where I was."
A return to old form could be critical for the Cardinals, who are still hopeful of seeing collective improvement in the 'pen. Rzepczynski and rookie Barret Browning are currently splitting the left-on-left matchups for manager Mike Matheny.
"He just needs to keep doing what he's been doing, because what he's doing now looks much more like the Rzepczynski we've seen in the past," Matheny said. "A lot of it has been work and preparation, and that turns into confidence, having positive results. That's one big ball that keeps rolling one way or another."