Strong hitting by Jon Jay comes at right time

The reasons Cardinals center fielder Jon Jay has fended off a second consecutive late-season swoon could vary from his familiarity with opposing pitchers to better stamina for September.

Or it could be as he repeated five times after playing a leading role in Tuesday's 4-2 victory — as simple as "everything evens out."

"Sometimes you don't even know how you got out of it," Jay said. "You try to stay consistent. You try to stay at that point. That's where I am right now."

Jay swatted his 10th home run of the season and finished Tuesday's win against the Milwaukee Brewers at Busch Stadium with two hits, two RBIs and two runs scored. It was the outfielder's fourth consecutive game with two hits, and for the first time in his career he has more than two homers in the same home stand. Jay added a couple of catches in center at the warning track — and later one misplay that led to a run — to back starter Kyle Lohse.

In his past 19 games, the lefthanded-hitting outfielder has batted .371 with 13 runs scored and three homers.

It's a display that is a stark contrast to last September.

"It's a long season and you're going to have some months where you don't do well, and some stretches, too," Jay explained. "I'm a firm believer that everything evens out. Everything evens out, especially in this game."

Jay's two seasons in the majors have followed similar trends. He emerges early in the year as a capable and valuable fourth outfielder. He promptly hits his way into more playing time, and then the Cardinals make a deal at the deadline that clears the way for him to move into an everyday role. Last season, the Cardinals exchanged right fielder Ryan Ludwick in a three-team deal for Jake Westbrook, and the club advertised Jay as the beneficiary of the open playing time. This season, Jay started a time share in center with incumbent Colby Rasmus, and the Cardinals moved Rasmus at the non-waiver trade deadline to Toronto, in part, to land starter Edwin Jackson and lefty Marc Rzepczynski.

After the Ludwick trade, Jay faded. His average dropped from .378 on the day of the trade to .300 at the end of the season, and he batted .218 in the season's final month. Jay did not hit a homer after the deal. He attributed the fade to fatigue, brought on in part by an offseason spent playing winter ball immediately before the start of the 2010 season.

Flares went up, however, when a similar slump struck at the deadline this year.

In the month after the Rasmus trade, Jay hit .250 in 27 games and had a .304 on-base percentage.

"I think until he establishes a long track record, any time you have a little hiccup people start (thinking), 'Hey, what's real?'" manager Tony La Russa said. "The truth of it is that through the season everyone goes through those things."

How they get out of them defines the player.

Jay, the Cardinals' second-round pick in the 2006 draft, has found a way to adjust quicker and more completely this season. Aware of how specific teams and even individual pitchers are going to attack him, Jay has tightened up his swing and counteracted. He's also found a bit of a comfort zone in the No. 2 spot in the order, where he hit Tuesday. In the first inning, Jay bounced into a groundout and then scored on Lance Berkman's two-out single. In the third, Jay uncorked a homer to left field, his second homer from the No. 2 spot in the order in three days.
Billed as a high-average hitter since his days batting behind Milwaukee All-Star Ryan Braun at the University of Miami, Jay now has 10 home runs in 384 at-bats this season. Rasmus had 11 in 338 at-bats for the Cardinals this season; he has 14 in 426 overall.

After two years of moving into an everyday role only after a trade, Jay is likely to come to spring training in 2012 with a chance to win the everyday job outright, barring an offseason move for a center fielder.

La Russa noted that opponents have 'seen him now a bunch of times and he's still getting base hits." With his recovery in the past few weeks, Jay is on pace to finish his second season hitting well above .300 rather than clinging desperately to .300 like he was a year ago.

"It's just one of those things," Jay said. "The more time you spend here the more comfortable you get every day. I don't think you could ever be too comfortable here. It'll bite you."

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