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Pham's woes continue in Cards' loss to Tribe

Outfielder vows to work out of slump after St. Louis' offense is unable to back Flaherty
MLB.com @LangoschMLB

ST. LOUIS -- Still in full uniform as the Cardinals' clubhouse began to empty following Wednesday's 5-1 loss to the Indians, slumping outfielder Tommy Pham cued up cell-phone video to offer visual confirmation of his candid self-assessment. He pointed out the trouble with his swing -- one too loopy and too long for Pham to drive the ball with the sort of authority that fostered his breakout season a year ago.

His pursuit of perfect form has been ongoing for weeks now, and it will take no day off. Hitless in his last 24 at-bats following an 0-for-4 night at Busch Stadium, Pham won't wait until the team's next game Friday to try and correct a mechanical flaw that he said has been nagging him for six weeks.

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ST. LOUIS -- Still in full uniform as the Cardinals' clubhouse began to empty following Wednesday's 5-1 loss to the Indians, slumping outfielder Tommy Pham cued up cell-phone video to offer visual confirmation of his candid self-assessment. He pointed out the trouble with his swing -- one too loopy and too long for Pham to drive the ball with the sort of authority that fostered his breakout season a year ago.

His pursuit of perfect form has been ongoing for weeks now, and it will take no day off. Hitless in his last 24 at-bats following an 0-for-4 night at Busch Stadium, Pham won't wait until the team's next game Friday to try and correct a mechanical flaw that he said has been nagging him for six weeks.

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Rather, he'll spend his off day at Busch Stadium, watching video, taking swings and experimenting with various drills that he hopes can help him correct his swing path.

"I'm tired of using my off-days as work days," Pham said. "But I'll be here. Right now, it's tough for me to have mental clarity knowing I'm underperforming and to sit back and do nothing about it."

His offensive decline has been sharp and unexpected given his superb 2017 season and strong opening to this one. Through May 19, Pham was slashing .321/.429/.547. His .977 OPS ranked among the league's best, and he had drawn 26 walks. Since then, Pham's ground-ball rate has jumped from 46.5 to 58.9 percent while he has hit .171/.200/.271 with a .471 OPS. He's walked just four times and struck out in 39 of his 129 at-bats.

Expected to be anchor the Cardinals' offense, Pham has instead been shackled by his swing.

"I've seen a couple at-bats that look really close and then some others where he was maybe forcing it a little, trying to be real aggressive early, and is still searching for it a bit," manager Mike Matheny said. "We need to get him going. We know our offense looks different when he does. And right now, it's just trying to find it."

Inconsistency has seeped into plenty of other areas for the Cardinals as well, and some of those surfaced again Wednesday to keep the club from completing what would have been its first series sweep since early May.

The past week has been an exercise in extremes for the team, which emerged from its worst performance of the year last Thursday in Milwaukee by piecing together a four-game winning streak. But while some players -- most notably Matt Carpenter and Marcell Ozuna -- continue to enjoy terrific June success, others in the lineup remain stagnant. Pham has had his struggles. Dexter Fowler has four hits in his last 16 games. Kolten Wong is still trying to pull his average above the .200 mark.

As a unit, there were some opportunities to do more against rookie starter Shane Bieber had they been able to ride the coattails of an historic offensive night on Tuesday. Carpenter and Jose Martinez again teamed up to push across a run in the third inning, but the Cardinals mustered only one other hit in seven chances with a runner in scoring position. They are now 4-19 in games in which they don't hit a home run.

Video: CLE@STL: Martinez lines an RBI single to right

"We just couldn't get that big hit," Matheny said. "That's really the story."

Back-to-back home runs by Edwin Encarnacion and Lonnie Chisenhall in the second sunk starter Jack Flaherty into an early hole. His night was further complicated by a ground ball hit too slowly to turn a double play and a bloop single in the third. Both produced runs.

Video: CLE@STL: Encarnacion, Chisenhall rip back-to-back HRs

"Outside of those two [home run] pitches, I really wouldn't take anything back from that game," said Flaherty, who was pulled for a pinch-hitter in the bottom of the fourth. "I just wish I had been a little bit more efficient and gone deeper. It just comes down to execution."

MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Already experiencing some back tightness as he took the field on Wednesday, Wong was knocked out of the game after being hit near his right hamstring twice by Bieber. He was plunked first in the fourth and then in the sixth. Instead of returning to the field after getting hit the second time, Wong retreated to the trainers' room, where he underwent acupuncture treatment.

Video: CLE@STL: Wong gets hit by pitch, exits shortly after

"No one wants to get hit twice in one game," said Wong. "Once, you understand. I know he didn't do it on purpose, but we're all professionals. We have to figure out how to not do the same thing twice."

It marked the second time this season that Wong has been hit twice in the same game. It happened previously against the Cubs on May 5.

UP NEXT
The first-place Braves open a series at Busch Stadium on Friday as the Cardinals continue through a portion of their schedule in which they'll play four consecutive division-leading clubs. Cardinals starter Miles Mikolas, who will oppose Atlanta's Julio Teheran, can punctuate his case for an All-Star invitation with another strong start. The Cardinals have won 10 of his 15 starts this season, and Mikolas (8-2, 2.69 ERA) is coming off an outing in which he retired 15 straight batters at one point. Game time is 7:15 p.m. CT.

Jenifer Langosch has covered the Cardinals for MLB.com since 2012, and previously covered the Pirates from 2007-11. Follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

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