Westbrook's shaky command trips up Cardinals

Westbrook's shaky command trips up Cardinals

Westbrook's shaky command trips up Cardinals

CINCINNATI -- Jake Westbrook's sinker did too much sinking on Saturday night. As a result, the Reds sunk the Cardinals in Cincinnati.

The veteran right-hander struggled to command his signature pitch, and the Reds topped the Cardinals, 8-3, at Great American Ball Park.

St. Louis dropped to 2-8 in its last 10 games. In each win, the Cardinals racked up 13 runs. They have combined for a total of 13 runs in the eight losses.

Westbrook routinely relies on a steady dose of dancing sinkers, which dive south of the strike zone and often cause the opposition to beat the ball into the ground. On Saturday, he recorded only four groundouts in his five innings.

One possible explanation? His sinker was actually too good.

"A lot of times, it's the ball moving almost too much," said manager Mike Matheny.

The skipper explained that in order to compensate for the extra movement, Westbrook elevated the ball. When he had trouble pinpointing the pitches at his desired target, the Reds' hitters either cashed in, or the ball plummeted out of the zone, too errant to warrant a strike call. Westbrook issued five walks, the most since he handed out six free passes in his first start of the season on April 5.

"Being able to control it pitch to pitch," Matheny said, "and not having it move too much where it's running out of the zone, is easier said than done."

Three of the batters Westbrook walked came around to score. Four of the five walks came with two outs.

"The walks aren't very good to be able to be successful, unless you do put the ball on the ground," Westbrook said, "and I wasn't able to do that tonight."

The evening appeared promising for St. Louis, as the Cardinals pounced early for the second straight contest. The Cardinals' offense, which had tallied 31 hits the previous two nights, tagged Reds southpaw Tony Cingrani for a run before he could record an out. Carlos Beltran doubled home Jon Jay, who had opened the affair with a walk, to provide St. Louis a 1-0 edge.

"When I gave up that one, I was pretty angry at myself," Cingrani said.

It was not, however, a precursor for things to come.

The Cardinals managed only four hits all night.

"We had quite a few opportunities, but we had trouble picking [Cingrani] up," Matheny said. "I think quite a few teams have. We had opportunities to get out of it on the defensive side, too, and ended up falling into a hole we couldn't get out of."

Jack Hannahan, Cincinnati's reserve third baseman who entered the game batting .212 with nine RBIs, lined a two-run single to center with two outs in the first to give the Reds a lead they would not relinquish.

"That's big," said Reds skipper Dusty Baker. "They thought they were out of the inning, two strikes and that was big. That put us on the board."

Cincinnati tacked on two more in the fourth, as Westbrook granted Zack Cozart a free pass with two outs and Devin Mesoraco followed with a blast into the left-field stands. Mesoraco struck again in the eighth with an inning-opening swat to the same spot. It marks the first career multi-homer game for the catcher.

The Cardinals chased Cingrani after five-plus innings, but the Reds' bullpen shut the door. Cincinnati relievers did not allow a hit over the final four frames and Reds pitchers combined for 13 strikeouts.

"The bullpen was outstanding," Baker said.

Westbrook suffered his second consecutive loss, as he yielded five runs on four hits in five frames. The Cardinals now enter Sunday's rubber match needing a win to secure a 3-8 road swing.

The Reds pulled to within four games of the Cardinals for second place in the National League Central, a division St. Louis paced before its menacing trip away from Busch Stadium. The Pirates' victory on Saturday pushed Pittsburgh to 1 1/2 games ahead of the Cardinals, who know they need to play better to avoid sinking even lower.

The same goes for their savvy sinkerballer.

"I'm going to be better," Westbrook said. "It's just a matter of figuring it out and getting back into the swing of things and getting back to where I was earlier in the year, getting a lot of ground balls and limiting my walks and getting a lot deeper in the ballgame than I have been."

Zack Meisel is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @zackmeisel. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.