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Holland's struggles continue as Cards fall late

Reliever allows tying, go-ahead runs after walk in eighth; now has 14 walks in 12 1/3 IP
MLB.com @JoeTrezz

ST. LOUIS -- When searching for the root of Greg Holland's struggles -- the underlying reason why the Cardinals still can't get the former All-Star closer right -- club officials point to two glaring statistical outliers: his career-high walk rate, and career-low strikeout rate.

Holland's peripheral metrics indicate how he tends to create messes for himself, then lacks the ability to wiggle out from them. The latest in a growing litany of examples came Saturday, when Holland surrendered the tying and go-ahead runs in the eighth inning of a 7-6 loss to the Phillies. Haunted again by a two-out walk, Holland's second unraveling in as many games -- and fifth of the season -- has club officials trying to wrap their heads around the question of how to solidify the shaky bridge to the ninth.

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ST. LOUIS -- When searching for the root of Greg Holland's struggles -- the underlying reason why the Cardinals still can't get the former All-Star closer right -- club officials point to two glaring statistical outliers: his career-high walk rate, and career-low strikeout rate.

Holland's peripheral metrics indicate how he tends to create messes for himself, then lacks the ability to wiggle out from them. The latest in a growing litany of examples came Saturday, when Holland surrendered the tying and go-ahead runs in the eighth inning of a 7-6 loss to the Phillies. Haunted again by a two-out walk, Holland's second unraveling in as many games -- and fifth of the season -- has club officials trying to wrap their heads around the question of how to solidify the shaky bridge to the ninth.

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"Right now, we're seeing some things we're going to have to get through differently," Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said. "We have guys who have options who could be available for those later innings."

That could mean Jordan Hicks seeing more opportunities after the sixth and seventh, where he's been flashing his high-octane arsenal lately. Matheny said Sam Tuivailala's recent run "earned" him a longer look. Maybe little-used Mike Mayers factors in, as well, along with John Brebbia.

Whatever the arrangement, Holland appears to have again pitched himself out of high-leverage situations. Compounding the frustration are the glimpses Holland shows, like the two quick outs he recorded Saturday to begin the eighth.

"He's rolling and everything looks right: You're seeing awkward swings, good pitches in tough counts, everything that's made him successful. He's just having a hard time repeating it throughout an inning," Matheny said. "We still believe he's going to get there, but until then we have to figure out a way to use him until he does."

Video: PHI@STL: Matheny on the bullpen's performance in loss

Tasked with holding a lead for the first time in nine days, Holland allowed a run-scoring triple to Scott Kingery and a go-ahead single to Jorge Alfaro. But neither would've scored had Holland not issued a two-out walk to Nick Williams.

"Two quick outs, thought I was rolling -- [then I] fall behind and walk a guy, then make a bad pitch during a strike count," Holland said. "But if I'm putting myself in better situations, one bad pitch is a double and no runs are in. I have to limit the things I can control, like putting guys on base for free, especially in a situation with two outs and nobody on."

What came next erased a margin the Cardinals fought back to gain over the course of a weather-interrupted afternoon. Matt Carpenter's run-scoring double gave St. Louis its first lead in the seventh, after Tyler O'Neill's first career homer tied the game in the sixth. Both teams traded a pair of unearned runs against starters Zach Eflin and John Gant before a 44-minute rain delay in the fifth, and Jedd Gyorko was involved for both teams: contributing two runs with a single and handing two more over with an error from his new post at shortstop.

Video: PHI@STL: Gyorko rips a 2-run single into left field

The triumvirate of relievers in relief of Gant, who lasted just 4 1/3 innings in place of ace Carlos Martinez, all but required Mike Matheny to turn to Holland for the eighth, and hope. Hicks hasn't recovered quickly from multi-inning appearances; he and Tuivailala combined to blank Philadelphia in the sixth and seventh. Luke Gregerson and Tyler Lyons remain on the disabled list, though Lyons' return -- just days away -- figures to be key in making Holland's situation more manageable.

The once-dominant reliever maintains his problem is not physical, and flatly denounced the possibility of refinding his old form in the Minors. An eight-year veteran, Holland has earned the right to reject such an assignment, were the Cardinals to suggest one. He's now walked 14 batters across 12 1/3 innings this season and struck out only nine, drastically flip-flopping his career norms enough that his ERA has ballooned to 7.30.

MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
O'Neill's first MLB homer: His prospect legend growing after weeks of slugging at Triple-A Memphis, O'Neill earned his second big league call up this week amid the club's flurry of roster moves. He'd managed just a lone hit over his first twelve plate appearances before turning on a 98-mph Luis Garcia fastball in the sixth. The 392-foot solo shot tied the game at five, and marked O'Neill's first big league homer after he hit 44 at Triple-A across the past season-plus. He received a curtain call afterwards.

Video: PHI@STL: O'Neill belts his 1st-career homer to left

O'Neill traded a signed bat for the ball from the fan who caught it. He said he'll give it to his mom, Marilyn, along with the ball from his first MLB hit, which he recorded Friday.

"That's definitely a really special feeling," O'Neill said. "It was last night's single amplified. Jogging around the bases, I don't even know where my mind was at, and then getting the curtain call was just the cherry on top. Just another feeling I'll never forget."

Can Gyorko stick at short? Starting in place of the injured Paul DeJong at short for the second straight day, Gyorko yanked two throws that went for errors. His second came in the fifth, when Brett Cecil coaxed a double-play ball out of Odubel Herrera with the bases loaded in a tie game. Gyorko's return throw was catchable, but it clanged off the glove of first baseman Jose Martinez, allowing two runs to score.

Gyorko figures to see a bulk of the shortstop work in the absence of DeJong, who underwent surgery to repair a broken hand bone Friday. But Gyorko hasn't played the position regularly since 2016, having since moved to third.

Video: PHI@STL: Herrera plates a pair on groundout, error

YOU GOTTA SEE THIS
Years of working and waiting culminated in a memorable moment in the sixth inning for catcher Steven Baron, who lined a single to left for his first career hit. A career Minor League backup, Baron was recalled this week when Carson Kelly hit the disabled list with a hamstring injury. He went hitless in his only previous Major League stint, in 2015 with Seattle.

Video: PHI@STL: Baron smacks his 1st Major League hit

HE SAID IT
"I've been booed before. We had a lead, had an opportunity to win the game and we didn't get it done. Hopefully I play long enough to get booed again; hopefully it's just a long time from now." -- Holland

MITEL REPLAY OF THE DAY
The Phillies seemed well on their way toward escaping a two-on, no-out jam in the fourth when Maikel Franco turned a Martinez grounder into an athletic double play. But the Cardinals challenged the ruling that Franco's throw across the diamond beat Martinez to first. Martinez was ruled safe after a 1-minute, 29-second review, after which a throwing error and Gryorko's two-run single plated three runs to tie the game.

Video: PHI@STL: Martinez awarded first after Cards challenge

After the Phillies regained the lead in the top of the eighth off Holland, Kolten Wong chopped a slow roller to the left side to lead off the bottom of the frame. Wong was ruled out after sliding head first into first base, and the call stood following a Cardinals challenge.

Video: PHI@STL: Cardinals challenge Wong out call at 1st

UP NEXT
The Cardinals' four-game series vs. the Phillies concludes when a pair of talented righties face off in Sunday's matinee finale. Jack Flaherty (0-1, 2.87) will face some serious competition when he takes his ninth crack at his first MLB win. Right-hander Aaron Nola (6-1, 1.99) opposes for Philadelphia, at 1:15 p.m. CT from Busch Stadium. Nola has been one of the National League's best starters so far in 2018.

Joe Trezza is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @joetrezz.

St. Louis Cardinals, John Gant, Jedd Gyorko, Greg Holland, Tyler O'Neill