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Stephen Piscotty has been a rock in the St. Louis Cardinals' lineup

ST. LOUIS -- The Washington Nationals kept trying to get him to swing at sliders below the knees. The Philadelphia Phillies continuously buzzed fastballs in at his hands.

Teams have tried various ways to attack one of the St. Louis Cardinals' best young players, but they have found that the worst thing they can do is to let runners reach base in front of him. That’s when Stephen Piscotty becomes his most dangerous, because he keeps things the most simple.

“There are times when you want to let it rip a little bit, but sometimes you tone it back,” Piscotty said.

Piscotty’s maturity and ability to adapt have been a foundation for the Cardinals’ better-than-expected offense to build around. They knew going into the season they would have to rely -- maybe dangerously so -- on the learning curve of two young outfielders. So far, Piscotty has been the one they can count on and Randal Grichuk has been the one they often have had to worry about.

Piscotty has been at his best in the biggest spots, batting .468 with runners in scoring position, a number that includes his two-run double in the seventh inning of the Cardinals’ 4-0 win over the Phillies on Thursday. Piscotty is hitting .301 overall. Batting in the No. 2 hole, he leads the team with 20 RBIs. Rarely does he look like a player getting his first crack at an everyday job. His approach clicks easily into a lineup with professional-style hitters like Matt Carpenter and Matt Holliday, while Grichuk’s go-for-broke approach already has led to a couple of brutal slumps and it’s not even mid-May.

“Stephen’s been just a very consistent spot for us. He’s had his times, too, when it didn’t look quite right and he’s going to continue to, [and] we’ll try to help him wade through that,” manager Mike Matheny said. “But he’s got a very simple approach with a lot of ability and it’s going to be fun to continue to watch him adjust and adapt to this league.”

There will, of course, be wobbly moments. Piscotty didn’t break hard out of the batter’s box on his first-inning chopper back to the mound and it led to an unusual 1-6-3 double play, with shortstop Freddy Galvis having time to make a tag on Matt Carpenter and then still throwing Piscotty out at first. Piscotty didn’t expect Carpenter to break for third and figured the pitcher would just jog over and underhand it to the first baseman, but he considered it a lesson learned nonetheless.

“Oh yeah. I messed that up, and it’s one of those things when you don’t run hard you’re going to get bit,” Piscotty said. “Mental mistake there.”

It is probably lucky for Piscotty that Matheny wasn't looking at him jog out of the box on that play.

There is a lot to like about Piscotty’s game. Matheny calls him a “plus” defender in right field, though Phillies third baseman Andres Blanco might find a more colorful term for it after Piscotty made a diving catch in foul ground to foil a looming Philadelphia rally in the ninth inning.

Grichuk, like Piscotty, has had a hard time making consistent contact. Both players have high strikeout rates. The difference is in the production overall. Grichuk is batting .182 with a .263 on-base percentage and seven fewer RBIs.

The Cardinals figure to give both players everyday opportunities. That won’t change now that Jeremy Hazelbaker has cooled off or because Tommy Pham is soon to be activated. Piscotty’s consistency has helped the team gain a measure of confidence through a surprisingly mediocre first 29 games. The Cardinals were at least hopeful that a good showing here against the Phillies, taking three out of four, could get them on a roll. Their longest winning streak thus far is four games. They had a stirring last at-bat victory Wednesday, which made Thursday a momentum day.

“We put something together late today, which is something to build on,” Matheny said. “Every day, I anticipate we’re going to go out and win. This is the kind of team that can win against anybody on a given night, and if we’re able to put together a long string, that would be nice.”