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Cards won't push Beltran through knee tightness

ST. LOUIS -- Convinced that regular rest will help Carlos Beltran move closer to his first-half self, Cardinals manager Mike Matheny kept the right fielder out of the starting lineup against the Astros on Thursday.

The veteran outfielder did, however, find a way to contribute off the bench for the Cards' series finale, lifting a tiebreaking two-run double as a pinch-hitter in the sixth inning.

Beltran exited Wednesday's 5-0 win in the ninth inning due to some minor tightness in one of his knees. That tightness had subsided by Thursday, but Matheny opted not to push his 35-year-old outfielder, who has long had knee problems. Beltran has now started just two-thirds of the games this month.

"I think what we've done here recently is pay real close attention when those little things are bothering him," Matheny said. "We're trying to be smart about it. We pushed him and really had him grind for a bulk of this season, and I think it really put him in a bad spot.

"We've all been very clear -- we need him to get going, and he's starting to get going. We don't want to push, push, push."

Perhaps Beltran's recently improved production is a payoff of that rest. He has 11 hits in his last eight starts.

While the Cardinals have made an effort not to overwork Beltran, the opposite approach has been taken with Yadier Molina of late. For just the second time all year, Molina has started 10 straight games. That workload comes after the catcher dealt with several minor injuries in August.

But that strain has not done anything to reduce the catcher's production. This month, Molina is hitting .327 with a .435 on-base percentage. The latter is notably higher than his season mark of .382.

"He understands where we are right now, and he feels good," Matheny said of Molina. "He's ready to go, and he knows that we need him."