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Holland, Flaherty struggle in loss to Giants

MLB.com @JoeTrezz

SAN FRANCISCO -- The Cardinals signed Greg Holland on Opening Day to bring stability to the back end of their bullpen. Lately, they've hoped he could parlay glimpses of effectiveness to become a steady hand in the middle innings. Now a week before the All-Star break, his roster spot again appears in jeopardy.

Holland's struggles were at the forefront again in Sunday's 13-8 loss to the Giants at AT&T Park, when the Cardinals limped to a series split in the finale of a four-game set. The five runs Holland allowed in the sixth put a back-and-forth contest out of reach and snapped a stretch of strong outings that had the righty vying for more high-leverage roles.

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SAN FRANCISCO -- The Cardinals signed Greg Holland on Opening Day to bring stability to the back end of their bullpen. Lately, they've hoped he could parlay glimpses of effectiveness to become a steady hand in the middle innings. Now a week before the All-Star break, his roster spot again appears in jeopardy.

Holland's struggles were at the forefront again in Sunday's 13-8 loss to the Giants at AT&T Park, when the Cardinals limped to a series split in the finale of a four-game set. The five runs Holland allowed in the sixth put a back-and-forth contest out of reach and snapped a stretch of strong outings that had the righty vying for more high-leverage roles.

View Full Game Coverage

Holland had not allowed an earned run in eight appearances since returning from the disabled list, recovered from a hip impingement that contributed to his 9.45 ERA through May. His performance Sunday ballooned that number back to 8.27.

Video: STL@SF: Sandoval plates a pair with a single to right

He was far from the only Cardinals pitcher to stumble on a picturesque California afternoon. Jack Flaherty returned to AT&T Park, where he made his MLB debut last September, and faltered to his shortest start of the year. The rookie allowed three runs (two earned) over 2 1/3 innings opposite winning pitcher Madison Bumgarner, whom the Cardinals tagged for four runs. They led until John Brebbia allowed a three-run homer to Pablo Sandoval in the fifth; the Giants tacked on two more against Sam Tuivailala in the eighth.

Video: STL@SF: Munoz drives in two with a line-drive single

"We needed a little help from everybody when our starter didn't get out of the third," Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said. "And we couldn't get it done."

In between Brebbia and Tuivailala, Holland was called on to face the top of San Francisco's lineup in a two-run game. He promptly loaded the bases ahead of Sandoval, who poked a slider near the plate into left field for a two-run single. Tommy Pham then dove but could not corral Alen Hansen's RBI hit. Gorkys Hernandez smacked a two-run knock to cap the rally.

Video: STL@SF: Hernandez hits 2-run single, exits game

The five runs allowed matched a career high for Holland set way back in 2010 and made it so by the time Matt Carpenter launched a pinch-hit home run into McCovey Cove, the three-run blast only sliced the Giants' lead in half.

"That's when you're kicking yourself in the dugout," Holland said.

Meanwhile, the Cardinals continue to scratch their heads. Matheny has spent months publicly defending Holland, as the reliever's struggles handcuffed him considerably. He did so again Sunday, calling Holland's "actual stuff the best he's had." He characterized the outing as a product of misfortune, despite Holland retiring only two of the eight batters he faced.

" Life on the fastball and you could tell there was pretty good break on the slider," Matheny said. "Unfortunately, those five runs don't help any of us."

MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Flaherty's outing could have unfolded much differently had Paul DeJong gloved a possible double-play ball off the bat of Buster Posey in the third, which instead scored the Giants' first run and provided lighter fuel for a three-run rally. The play changed the direction of Flaherty's afternoon. One out away from escaping if the play is made, he allowed the next three hitters to reach after it wasn't and was pulled after 69 pitches.

"I just sucked today," Flaherty said.

Video: STL@SF: Posey reaches on error, Hernandez scores

SOUND SMART
Carpenter's pinch-hit homer off Ray Black set some eerie history, making Carpenter the first Cardinals player to reach the water beyond AT&T Park's right-field wall since Larry Walker. Walker did so exactly 13 years ago: July 8, 2005. Matheny was catching that day for the Giants.

"And I'm No. 13," Carpenter said. How crazy is that?"

Video: STL@SF: Carpenter hits pinch-hit homer into the Cove

YOU GOTTA SEE THIS
Now the Cardinals' everyday right fielder in large part due to the elite defense he provides, Harrison Bader showed off his athleticism in the fourth, robbing Posey with a sprawling catch in short right field. Bader raced 92 feet in 4.7 seconds, reaching a top speed of 30 ft/sec to make a five-star catch, per Statcast™. He had just a 13 percent probability of making the play.

Video: STL@SF: Bader races 92 feet for a diving catch

FROM THE TRAINERS' ROOM
X-rays on Pham's bruised left ankle came back negative after the Cardinals center fielder fouled a Sam Dyson pitch off his foot in the seventh. Pham finished the at-bat after a several-minute consultation with the Cardinals' athletic training staff, but only long enough to strike out on the next pitch. He was removed from the game the following inning. The injury is not expected to require him to miss time.

Video: STL@SF: Pham fouls ball off ankle, later exits game

HE SAID IT
"I can't believe Sandoval hit the pitch that he hit. But [Holland] was already in a mess by then." -- Matheny, on Sandoval's two-run single off Holland that broke the game open in the sixth

UP NEXT
The Cardinals' longest road trip of the year to date will continue after an off-day Monday, when they open a two-game set against the White Sox in Chicago on Tuesday. The Interleague matchup will offer a chance to utilize Jose Martinez at designated hitter; the Cardinals have tried to shield his exposure at first base recently. Yadier Molina (shoulder soreness) should also return to the lineup following a two-day absence. Newly minted All-Star Miles Mikolas (9-3, 2.63) will get the ball opposite righty Dylan Covey (3-4, 5.54) in the opener, set for 7:10 p.m. CT from Guaranteed Rate Field.

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

St. Louis Cardinals, Matt Carpenter, Jack Flaherty, Greg Holland