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Cards' reserves trying to make most of sporadic ABs

LOS ANGELES -- As majestic and crucial as Matt Holliday's third-inning home run may have been on Tuesday night, the long ball that garnered most of the postgame attention was the one Shane Robinson poked over the left-field fence in his seventh-inning pinch-hit at-bat.

It wasn't nearly as authoritative a blast, but there was an appreciation for how difficult it is to do damage off the bench with such sporadic appearances. For all the effort manager Mike Matheny makes during the regular season to give his bench players spot starts, that playing time all but disappears in the postseason.

Coming into Tuesday's 4-2 win in Game 4 of the National League Championship Series, Robinson had taken just two at-bats since Sept. 29.

"There is a little challenge there," Robinson said a day after his career highlight. "It's more mentally challenging than physically. I mean, everyone out there on the bench can go out there and produce and hit and whatnot, but mentally staying sharp and trying not to do too much when you get your opportunities is the tough thing."

The Cardinals' five-player bench is not viewed as a strong suit on a team that entered Wednesday one win away from advancing to the World Series. No team had a lower pinch-hit batting average than the Cards' .201 during the regular season. That was when they had contributions, too, from Matt Adams, who hit .314 with three homers and nine RBIs as a pinch-hitter.

With Allen Craig still recovering from a foot injury, Adams has been thrust into the everyday lineup. This postseason, the Cardinals are 2-for-12 off the bench. Robinson's homer was the first RBI produced by the unit.

"One of the most difficult positions in this game [is] not the guy that gets to go out and grind every day, [but] the guy that tries to stay sharp without having game experience," Matheny said. "But you look at Shane Robinson walking into a game last night and being able to do what he did, that just shows the extra effort he's had to put in to try and be ready.

"You don't want anybody complacent with being the guy that's going to be out there every once in a while. They all need to want to be out there. That takes a whole lot of work to try and stay sharp, which, hats off to our staff for the guys and the work they're putting in -- [assistant hitting coach] Bengie Molina and [hitting coach] John Mabry -- with trying to keep these guys ready to go when the time comes."

Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for Read her blog, By Gosh, It's Langosch, and follow her on Twitter @LangoschMLB. Adam McCalvy is a reporter for Read his blog, Brew Beat, and follow him on Twitter at @AdamMcCalvy.
Read More: St. Louis Cardinals, Shane Robinson