Cards look to Garcia to end four-game skid

With past success, left-hander Jaime Garcia starts the first game of the Padres at Cardinals series Monday night.

The St. Louis Cardinals' woes over the past week can easily be attributed to shaky pitching.

Jaime Garcia was an exception.

Garcia, who put together clearly the best performance by a Cardinals starter in the last 11 days and has also dominated the San Diego in the past, will get the ball for Monday night's series opener against the visiting Padres.

St. Louis (22-19) has dropped four straight and eight of 10, and its NL Central lead shrunk to one-half game over Cincinnati after Sunday night's 6-5 loss to the Los Angeles Dodgers. The Cardinals led 5-3 with two outs in the seventh inning as they tried to avoid a weekend sweep, but reliever Marc Rzepczynski served up a three-run homer to pinch-hitter Scott Van Slyke on a 3-0 pitch.

"We have a good team and we know we can do it,'' shortstop Rafael Furcal said. "Right now, everybody's struggling, but we've got to be positive and keep working.''

Pitching hiccups have been an ongoing problem for St. Louis, which has yielded at least six runs in nine of its last 10 games. The lone exception - and the Cardinals' last victory - came Wednesday, when Garcia (3-2, 3.68 ERA) gave up one run and nine hits while walking none and matching a career best with nine strikeouts in 7 1-3 innings of a 4-1 win at San Francisco.

"He gets going like that, and it's going to be fun to watch him," St. Louis manager Mike Matheny said.

Matheny could get the chance to witness another impressive outing from Garcia considering he has yielded seven hits over 15 scoreless innings in his last two starts against San Diego. The left-hander is 1-0 with a 1.35 ERA in three career outings versus the Padres.

Making a strong showing for Garcia more likely is the fact that San Diego rarely produces much offense against anybody.

The Padres (16-26) have plated the majors' second-fewest runs with 133 - 84 fewer than the Cardinals - and their 16 homers rank last in baseball. They've totaled nine runs in their last four contests, but still arrive in St. Louis seeking their first three-game winning streak of the season.

San Diego's biggest hit during Sunday's 3-2, 13-inning win over the Los Angeles Angels came off the bat of Clayton Richard (2-5, 4.94), Monday's probable starting pitcher.

Richard got a pinch-hit single with two outs in the 13th, and came around to score the winning run on Will Venable's base hit. Angels left fielder Howard Kendrick bobbled the ball off Venable's bat, allowing Richard to score from first.

"It's definitely not something you anticipate going to the ballpark that day,'' said Richard, who improved to 2 for 2 in his career as a pinch-hitter. "A pleasant surprise.''

The Padres, who split six games with the Cardinals last season, now hope Richard can deliver another victory with his arm.

Richard gave up two runs, four hits and no walks in seven innings of Wednesday's 4-2 victory over the Dodgers, earning a win for the first time since his season debut. The left-hander had compiled a 6.39 ERA in losing his previous five starts

He is 2-0 with a 3.45 ERA in three career starts versus St. Louis, and won't have to worry about facing Lance Berkman, who landed on the 15-day disabled prior to Sunday's game with a right knee injury.

Especially with Berkman out, the Cardinals need David Freese to break out of his prolonged slump. He struck out in all four of his at-bats Sunday, and is batting .088 with a homer and three RBIs in his last 10 games.

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