ST. LOUIS -- Both Adam Wainwright and Matt Holliday took the field on Thursday eyeing personal breakthroughs. Wainwright needed life on his pitches. Holliday, a hit.
Holliday got his -- two, in fact -- in a game that the Cardinals hope moves the left fielder out of a period of lousy early-season luck. As for Wainwright, his search continues.
Trying to bounce back after a home opener start that he dubbed the worst of his career, Wainwright served up two homers and lasted only five innings in the Cardinals' 6-3 loss to the Reds. There were small signs of improvement, but the 40,049 at Busch Stadium were also reminded that Wainwright's journey back from Tommy John surgery remains exactly that.
"That's a radical surgery, and I think we've made light of it because so many guys have had it and bounced back," manager Mike Matheny said. "It's pretty consistent that you're going to have days and you don't feel quite right and you can't really explain it. It comes from a year without throwing."
Wainwright refuses to blame the year lost to Tommy John surgery for his 0-3 start, noting that such is "a crutch that I'm not going to stand on." But while he may choose not to make an excuse, no acknowledgement is needed to confirm that he is still not all the way right.
This is the first time in Wainwright's career that he has not won at least one of his first three starts. He's staring at the possibility of a winless month, too, with only one April start left. The other four Cardinals starters are a combined 8-0.
"We have five very good pitchers, I feel, going out starting games, and I'm the only guy that's not giving our team a great chance to win right now," Wainwright said. "I take that personally."
Wainwright kept the Reds off the scoreboard through three, and struck out Joey Votto to begin the fourth. His cutter then abandoned him.
He hung the pitch to Brandon Phillips, who broke the scoreless tie with a solo homer. The deficit swelled to three when, two batters later, Ryan Ludwick took Wainwright deep on the same pitch.
"His velocity is a little bit down," Ludwick said. "I feel like we were able to take advantage a little bit. In that scenario, you've got to, because when he's on and back 100 percent, he's one of those guys that you're lucky just to get one run."
The home runs were the fourth and fifth allowed by Wainwright this season. The rest of the Cardinals' pitching staff has combined to give up six. Wainwright's never allowed more than 17 long balls in a season, and it wasn't until his 13th start of 2010 that he served up his fifth.
A two-out walk and a second Phillips hit -- this one a single to right -- pushed across another Cincinnati run in the fifth. Wainwright closed the inning with a strikeout, at least ending his outing with a reminder of the potential still there.
"I made some strides in a few areas, but I've got ways to go in other areas," Wainwright said. "I'm not exactly excited about my outing today, but I did some things that were positive today that I'll build off of. I think I'll just continually progress in that way."
Progress was more tangible for Holliday, who, on a day when Matheny rested a few of his usual starters, insisted that he play. He wanted to hit his way out of a skid that had his average sitting at .182 heading into the game.
Lugging a 5-for-34 streak with him to the plate in the sixth, Holliday launched a first-pitch fastball from Bronson Arroyo into the left-field seats. The homer, Holliday's third of the year, drove in Jon Jay and Rafael Furcal, and it pulled the Cardinals to within one.
"You hope that if you keep hitting it hard that you're going to find some holes," said Holliday, who also singled in the ninth. "It can be hard not to try to change your mechanics or tweak things because you want results. It sometimes can be hard."
Added Matheny: "We didn't doubt whether that was going to happen or not. It will continue, too."
That burst of sixth-inning offense was the only success the Cardinals had against Arroyo, one day after scoring 11 off Cincinnati's pitching. Arroyo allowed only two other hits in his eight-inning performance, which halted a string of six straight winless starts against the Cardinals.
He also became the first Reds starter to win a game since Opening Day.
"He just doesn't throw any fastballs in fastball counts," Holliday said. "He mixes it up slow, slow and slower and then mixes his fastball in there. He had us off balance and was able to minimize damage."
Cincinnati added breathing room with Drew Stubbs' solo homer off Victor Marte in the seventh. Fernando Salas also allowed a run in an inning of relief.
Though unable to come up with the series sweep, the Cardinals closed out the homestand, 4-2, and with a pair of series wins. The club heads off on a six-game road trip wounded, however.
Lance Berkman is set to go on the disabled list prior to Friday's series opener in Pittsburgh because of a calf injury. Outfielder Jon Jay left Thursday's game early after jamming his right shoulder into the center-field wall on Stubbs' homer. He left the ballpark with his arm in a sling, and his status was officially announced as day to day.
"It's not things that you want to happen, but we're going to have some guys ready to answer the bell," Matheny said of the recent pileup of injuries. "It's an opportunity for them."
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.