ST. LOUIS -- The Cardinals entered Sunday as the only Major League team yet to have a win credited to their bullpen this season. That is obviously a reflection of an unstable bullpen, but it's also a testament to the continued strong starting pitching, which has routinely been good enough to put the Cardinals ahead early in games.
Through the first 23 games of 2013, the five-man rotation has posted a 2.08 ERA. That's the lowest in the Majors -- by nearly a run. Three of the team's starters -- Jake Westbrook (0.98), Shelby Miller (1.44), Adam Wainwright (1.93) -- entered Sunday with ERAs that ranked in the National League's top 10 among starters. Westbrook's was the lowest.
"They're using their strengths well," manager Mike Matheny said. "We have guys pitching different styles, and I think that mixes it up pretty well on what kind of look the opponent is going to get each night."
With three games remaining this month, the Cardinals still have a chance to set a franchise record for starting-pitching wins in April if they can reel off three straight, beginning on Sunday. The staff has 14 wins, two shy of the April wins by Cardinals' starters in 2000.
The starters are averaging an NL-best 6.4 innings per start, yet have still allowed an NL-low five homers.
Boggs searching for answer to struggles
ST. LOUIS -- The ninth-inning runs meant nothing to an outcome that would have needed an offensive explosion to change. But for Mitchell Boggs, the inability to pitch a clean inning on Sunday only piled more frustration on a reliever who is desperately seeking a morsel of positive reinforcement.
Visibly irritated with his latest outing, Boggs stood at his locker after the game to field what must now seem like never-ending questions about his attempt to regain his confidence.
"It's not easy," Boggs said of a month in which he has posted a 12.66 ERA. "I'm obviously not ecstatic about how it's going. It's hard to be positive, but you have to do everything you can to fight every single day. If anybody can't see that, they're crazy.
"I certainly don't think I'm at a disadvantage. I certainly don't think when I go out there that guys are fighting to get to the bat rack because there's a guy out there that's terrible. I don't feel that way. It helps to know that [manager Mike Matheny] is behind me and that these guys are behind me. And I'm going to keep fighting. That's all I can do. I've said it time and time again, and I'll keep saying it."
Having already lost the closer's job and a hold on a setup role, Boggs entered with the Cardinals trailing by four in the ninth on Sunday. The inning started with a bloop single to right and a broken-bat hit to left. After striking out Jose Tabata and pitching around Garrett Jones, a slow grounder scored the first run.
Marc Rzepczynski relieved Boggs from there and allowed both inherited runners to score.
"He was throwing better today," Matheny said of Boggs. "It was one of those days that probably wasn't reflective of his stuff going in a better direction. You just have to keep fighting."
Finding progress amid poor results, though, is much easier said than done for Boggs, who labeled this tumultuous month as the toughest challenge he's ever faced in his athletic career.
"It's hard to, especially 30 minutes after it happens, it's hard," Boggs said when asked if he could point to any positives. "You want results. That's what this game is all about. And the results that I'm getting right now aren't what I want them to be. But I have to continue to show up every single day and do the things that I've been doing. It's going to turn. I don't care what anybody says. I can go out there and compete with anybody. It's going to happen."
After passing tests, Carpenter back in lineup
ST. LOUIS -- Matt Carpenter left Busch Stadium on Saturday unconcerned that the side tightness that prompted his exit in the ninth inning would affect his ability to play in the series finale. A day later, he passed the requisite tests to prove it.
Carpenter received treatment and then clearance on Sunday to return to the Cardinals' lineup, where he continues to fit as the team's leadoff hitter. He entered the day leading the league in runs scored with 21.
"I felt good, so I'm back in there," Carpenter said. "Obviously, I felt something [on Saturday], and it was an awkward swing. I was stretching the rest of the game, but I didn't think it was anything serious. I felt pretty good about it."
Carpenter first felt the tweak during a swing he took in his seventh-inning at-bat on Saturday. It was after manager Mike Matheny then noticed Carpenter trying to stretch his side in the field and while on the on-deck circle in the ninth that he summoned the infielder over to ask if something was wrong.
With only a few seconds to decide whether to let Carpenter hit, Matheny opted to call him back to the dugout.
"I can't risk losing a guy for two weeks if there's the chance we can pull him out for one at-bat," Matheny said. "It hurt him yesterday more than anything that he felt like he let his teammates down and couldn't answer the bell late in the game. And I know that about him. We need him to let us in on what's going on. We'll try to do the right thing, but it's a trust that has to be built up between us."
No soreness for Motte after throwing for first time
ST. LOUIS -- Curiosity gave way to relief for Jason Motte on Sunday when he arrived at the ballpark feeling no unusual soreness a day after he resumed throwing for the first time in five weeks.
Motte felt good enough, in fact, that he played catch for a second straight day.
This time, he threw from a further distance -- about 60-65 feet -- and with more exertion. He'll continue progressing through a throwing program in the hopes of working his way back to the mound without surgery.
"I felt good," said Motte, who was diagnosed with a ligament tear in his right elbow earlier this month. "I woke up this morning, and we didn't take a step back. If I didn't feel good, I don't think we would have moved forward. I got to go out and play a little more catch. We'll see how it feels and do it all over again tomorrow. Everything is feeling good so far."
• The Cardinals are slated to face starters Mat Latos (1-0, 2.16 ERA), Bronson Arroyo (2-2, 4.24 ERA) and Homer Bailey (1-2, 2.81 ERA), in that order, during their upcoming series against the Reds.
• Shane Robinson earned the start in center field over Jon Jay on Sunday because the Pirates started lefty Jeff Locke. In the first two games of the series, Jay reached base five times.
• David Freese, who turned 30 on Sunday, returned to the lineup after being given the day off on Saturday. Asked why he chose to pinch-hit recent callup Jermaine Curtis over Freese in the ninth inning of a three-run game on Saturday, Matheny explained that he was saving Freese for later in the inning in case the pitcher's spot came up in an RBI situation. Due to an earlier double-switch, the pitcher was hitting in the six-hole.
• Carlos Beltran exited Sunday's game after six innings due to illness, Matheny announced after the team's 9-0 loss. Beltran has been battling a stomach virus since Thursday, but until Sunday he had been able to play through it. Beltran was 0-for-3 against Jeff Locke before Jon Jay replaced him in the lineup.
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, By Gosh, It's Langosch, and follow her on Twitter @LangoschMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.