By R.B. Fallstrom
The Associated Press
ST. LOUIS - Last year, Jeff Suppan was the National League's best-hitting pitcher with a .293 average. This year? Nothing.
The St. Louis right-hander is 0-for-the season, a string of 41 fruitless at-bats after again going hitless in the Cardinals' 10-5 win over the Reds on Monday.
"Obviously I'd like to help myself out, help the cause," he said. "But I feel if I can have some good at-bats and get my bunts down I'm still helping the team out."
Taken in the context of what appears to be one of the Cardinals' best seasons in franchise history, a 77-40 record and 14-game NL Central lead heading into Tuesday's game against the Reds, Suppan's O-fer serves as a humorous sidelight. He makes good contact, with a staff-low nine strikeouts, and entered the year a career .259 hitter in 222 at-bats.
Teammates know he deserves better than the measly one walk he has so far.
"When he gets his first hit, it's going to be a big one," manager Tony La Russa said. "He's always been a good hitter, it's just one of those things that happen."
Plus, he's carrying his weight in the rotation with an 11-6 record, two wins off his career high, and a 3.86 ERA.
But nobody in the clubhouse will allow Suppan to forget his shortcomings at the plate. It's been more than a year, a slide of 46 at-bats, since his last hit. He played for the Pirates when he got one off Brett Tomko in St. Louis on July 28, 2003. As the numbers mount, so does the frustration.
"Last year I wasn't thinking about it, I was just hitting the ball," Suppan said. "This year I have a better swing but for whatever reason I'm not getting hits. Any hits."
During the slump, Suppan has tried being more selective.
"I'm trying to see some pitches, make them throw some pitches, and not be an easy out," he said.
He's also tried to borrow some luck. On Monday, Jason Marquis, the Cards' best-hitting pitcher this year, loaned him one of his bats.
Marquis is batting .321, leads NL pitchers with nine RBI.
"I figured, if it wasn't working with his then why not try something else," Marquis said. "I was just throwing it out there."
Suppan's best at-bat came in the second inning, when he successfully laid down a sacrifice with two strikes. He also grounded out sharply and struck out.
"He's got a hot bat," he said. "But he gave me the wrong one."
Suppan stands out as a non-producer at the plate on this rotation. Woody Williams is batting .239 with four doubles and an RBI and Matt Morris was batting .137 entering Tuesday's start but with a double and five RBI.
Only Chris Carpenter, who's 5-for-50 with one RBI, comes close to Suppan's futility. Suppan takes solace in his six sacrifice bunts, one off the team lead.
And he could get another eight or nine starts, equating to perhaps 25 more chances to change his luck at the plate.
Then again, he could approach a record. The big-league mark for the longest hitless streak in a season belongs to Bob Buhl, who went 0-for-70 in 1962.
"Supe's got a very good swing," Marquis said. "I don't know why his numbers from last year haven't carried over, but he has enough time to snap out of it."
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