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Ludwick, Rasmus picking up Cards' offensive slack

ST. LOUIS (AP) — The St. Louis Cardinals are running out of places to park Matt Holliday, who's been unproductive batting fourth, third and now second in the order.

Ryan Ludwick and Colby Rasmus have helped keep the offense afloat, wherever they've hit.

"Eh, it's no difference from 2,3,4,5," said Ludwick, whose .451 average with runners in scoring position through Wednesday is second-best in the majors. "I think the main thing is wherever you're at just finding a good pitch to hit.

Ludwick has mostly hit second, although he moved to cleanup this week in a swap designed to spark Holliday. He's also batted fifth and sixth.

Rasmus, a second-year man, has appeared everywhere except third and eighth on manager Tony La Russa's lineup card.

Those two, along of course with three-time NL MVP Albert Pujols, are allowing Holliday to emerge from a funk at the plate that's lasted most of the season without too much scrutiny. Despite the inconsistencies, the Cardinals were still battling with Cincinnati for the NL Central lead.

La Russa isn't averse to leaving Holliday in the second slot. At the very least, the manager considers it a better shot than Holliday's brief time at No. 3 ahead of Pujols.

"That one was not going to last just by definition," La Russa said. "This one's better, this one's got more potential value."

La Russa also knows the Cardinals didn't sign Holliday to be a seven-year, $120 million table setter, even though he likes a No. 2 hitter with pop.

"The team was made up with Holliday hitting fourth, not third, not second," the manager said. "But this one has a chance to be productive, whereas the other one had very little chance."

That's largely because of Ludwick, the late-blooming power source who has emerged at 29 and is now in his third year as a regular. Ludwick has been the team's toughest out all season and has 11 homers and 40 RBIs, trailing Pujols by nine for the team lead. He's been so good in right field that La Russa doesn't hesitate to tout him for a Gold Glove.

At the plate, Ludwick has been patient and uses the whole field. With success, his confidence has grown.

"When I feel good I feel like it doesn't matter who's out there," Ludwick said. "If they throw something in an area where I can hit it, I'm going to put a good swing on it."

A similar emergence by Rasmus, the team's No. 1 draft pick out of high school in 2005, has been almost as impressive. The left-handed hitter has six homers this month and 13 overall, among the NL leaders, while displaying a more selective approach even as he has pounced on the first pitch for seven of his long balls.

"I'm trying to put some good wood on it as early as I can," Rasmus said. "That way, if they mess up I'll be on it."

Even after getting shut down in three at-bats by the Mariners' Jason Vargas on Wednesday, Rasmus was on a tear (11 for 29) since April 28 against left-handers with three homers.

Rasmus started 104 games in center field last year but was more liable to sit against tougher lefties. Becoming a regular has helped him find a groove.

"I guess being in there every day does make a big difference," Rasmus said. "It's kind of like if I struggle a little bit, I don't have to worry about being on the bench the next day. I've got a pretty good chance of being in there again, and just by the constant grind, getting beat up so much, I've finally learned how to get them."

If the Cardinals can get Holliday revved up, they can be tough on a lot of pitchers.

After striking out on a pitch in the dirt with the tying run on third of a 2-1 loss to Seattle on Wednesday, the team's big free agent pickup was batting .194 with runners in scoring position and sixth on the team with 25 RBIs. After a brief surge early this month, he's back to making lots of easy outs.

"Whoever's hitting in front of Albert tends to get some good pitches to hit," Ludwick said. "Get him hot. It's just a matter of time."