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Cards trying to solve bullpen conundrum

Relievers have allowed 24 runs over last 26 2/3 innings
MLB.com @LangoschMLB

ST. LOUIS -- The bullpen door opened four times in the ninth inning Thursday as manager Mike Matheny attempted to find somebody, anybody, who could help cobble together the three necessary outs.

By the time he did, a tie had been lost and the Cardinals were again left to wonder where they'll turn next within a bullpen scrambling for stability without Trevor Rosenthal as its anchor.

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ST. LOUIS -- The bullpen door opened four times in the ninth inning Thursday as manager Mike Matheny attempted to find somebody, anybody, who could help cobble together the three necessary outs.

By the time he did, a tie had been lost and the Cardinals were again left to wonder where they'll turn next within a bullpen scrambling for stability without Trevor Rosenthal as its anchor.

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Those two ninth-inning runs were the difference in a 4-3 loss to the Padres that prevented the Cardinals from inching up in the National League Central, where they trail Chicago by 4 1/2 games.

"We don't have roles," Matheny said of his bullpen. "In any situation, if it looks like you're going to be the best fit for it, we're going to give you the ball. Go get the job done."

That's been easier said than done since last Wednesday, when Rosenthal exited with an elbow injury that will require Tommy John surgery. Since then, the bullpen has surrendered 24 runs over 26 2/3 innings.

Over the season, the 'pen has sustained 24 losses, fourth most in the Majors, and suffered 16 blown saves. The volatility of the 'pen is also evidenced in the fact that the Cardinals are 2-10 when tied after seven innings, 4-9 when even after eight and 8-16 in games decided during the final at-bat.

"I'd say that our struggles recently aren't really about finding roles," said Matt Bowman, who retired the lone batter he faced in the ninth. "I think it's just that every once and a while you have ebbs and flows to a season where guys struggle a little bit, myself included, or at the top of that list."

The exception has been Tyler Lyons, who extended his scoreless innings streak to 15 2/3 by maneuvering out of a bases-loaded jam in the eighth on Thursday. Matheny chose to have Lyons enter when he'd face the heart of San Diego's order rather than hold him back for another inning.

And so the ninth started with Sam Tuivailala ("Tui" for Players Weekend), who allowed singles to the two batters he faced. A grounder off Zach Duke scooted through the infield to push home the go-ahead run, and Bowman traded an insurance run for an out. Four of five batters reached on the three relievers before Brett Cecil entered and struck out two.

"It's all command based," Duke said of the unit's collective troubles. "We're going through a little rough patch. The ability is there. We just have to get out there and get it done."

The Cardinals have already made a series of roster moves over the last week to try to inject some aid. Mike Mayers and Josh Lucas have come and gone. Ryan Sherriff is awaiting his debut opportunity. With the 40-man roster full and the August waiver period nearing an end, the Cardinals may be limited in other options.

And so Matheny will continue to work with what he has.

"I always say, it's just more opportunity for guys maybe [to pitch] in some situations that they weren't previously in," Matheny said. "We're going to keep throwing guys in spots where they can do it, and we'll figure it out."

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.

St. Louis Cardinals