ST. LOUIS -- Cardinals skipper Mike Matheny wasn't known for his prowess at the plate. The four-time Gold Glove catcher had a career .239 average, with his best season coming in at .261.
Then-St. Louis manager Tony La Russa told Matheny he could focus on catching and handling the pitching staff and the offense will take care of itself, and Matheny appreciated it.
"That was a potent team, and they just needed me to do the little things right," Matheny said. "Sure enough, having that freedom to do my job also just freed me up to have a little more offense than I had before."
So, now, when one of his players, shortstop Pete Kozma, was struggling offensively, Matheny passed along the same message.
"You look at our club, you look at our lineup. We've got enough to produce runs. We've got to save some," Matheny said. "To me, the way Pete's playing defense, he's saving us runs. So there's huge value to that that just doesn't show up in the linescores."
Kozma ran into an 0-for-27 slump, spanning 10 games from June 26 to July 13, and while he was replaced in the lineup by Daniel Descalso for a few games, Matheny backed the young shortstop. And before long, Kozma snapped the streak with a three-hit game in Chicago on July 14 and has at least one hit in four of his five games since.
"Sometimes it goes good, sometimes it goes bad," Kozma said. "You're going to get frustrated. Everybody gets frustrated. I mean, it just happens. You've just got to keep playing."
Kozma said he stuck with his approach throughout the slump and was confident things would eventually turn around in the long run. And it helped that the Cardinals weren't starved for offensive production, with three players -- Yadier Molina, Allen Craig, Matt Carpenter -- among the top five in National League batting average.
"Those guys are going to always be hitting the ball," Kozma said. "It always helps when I ask them for help and you know they're right there."
Chad Thornburg is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.