ST. LOUIS -- Facing an Indians team that he was a part of for nine seasons, Jake Westbrook endured another tough start to open the Cardinals' 10-game homestand on Friday.
There were bright spots for the right-hander in the team's 6-2 loss in front of 42,098 at Busch Stadium. But there were also shadows of some of the same problems that have plagued Westbrook during a trying month-long stretch.
"I felt a lot better tonight, as far as pitches that I made," said Westbrook, who was charged with four runs (three earned) while falling to 4-6 on the season. "It's just been a battle for me, even when I feel like I've pitched pretty well. It's just been a battle. I still have to get better."
The hardest hit balls came in the first inning, when a string of three straight hits pushed the Indians to a 2-0 lead. Only one of Cleveland's eight hits off Westbrook went for extra bases, that being an RBI double from catcher Carlos Santana in that first inning.
To his credit, Westbrook rebounded to retire eight straight after Santana's at-bat.
"The second inning, I thought he made a much better and conscious effort to get the ball down," manager Mike Matheny said. "It's no secret with him. When he's down in the zone, he gets ground balls."
Westbrook did collect the ground balls. The problem was, several of them were still hit with authority and found holes. What also hurt Westbrook was the fact that baserunners came in bunches.
Three of the first four batters he faced in the game reached with a hit. He allowed a leadoff walk and single to start the fourth, an inning in which Cleveland scored once. And in the Indians' one-run fifth, the frame began with an error and two consecutive singles.
Allen Craig's fifth-inning fielding error was one of two defensive miscues the Cardinals made behind Westbrook. The club finished the night with three miscues, marking their second three-error game in three days.
"It's about our pitching, and it's about how clean we can play defensively," general manager John Mozeliak said. "You saw tonight that it wasn't a very clean game for us."
Westbrook has now won just one of his last eight starts and has given up 48 hits and 12 walks in his last 31 innings. That averages out to nearly two baserunners per inning in the right-hander's most recent six outings.
Even though he deemed this start as a step in the right direction, Westbrook still seeks that consistent sinker that he rode to such a strong April.
"I did figure some things out, and we'll move forward from there," Westbrook said. "I did settle down after that [first inning], made an adjustment and felt like I got better tonight, as opposed to my previous four or five [starts]."
The Indians extended their advantage to 6-0 on Johnny Damon's two-run homer off reliever Maikel Cleto in the seventh.
The Cardinals dented that lead with two runs in the bottom half of the frame, both scoring on a single by pinch-hitter Matt Adams. The pinch-hit was the first of Adams' career.
Carlos Beltran nearly narrowed that deficit even further, but his fly ball died at the warning track in right field, costing him a two-run homer. That was the last batter Indians starter Josh Tomlin faced in his 76-pitch start. Adams' single was the only hit Tomlin surrendered in the Cardinals' six chances with runners in scoring position.
"He gave us what we needed," Indians manager Manny Acta said of Tomlin, who is now 4-0 in Interleague Play. "He gave us enough time to get some good at-bats against Jake and ended up scoring enough runs."
While not using it as an excuse, Matheny didn't deny that fatigue could be an assisting factor in the Cardinals' recent spiral. The team has had just one off-day since May 10 while posting a 10-18 record during that span.
And as if a grueling schedule isn't challenging enough, this stretch has also included two separate trips to the West Coast, as well as a recent 11-day road swing through three cities.
The team landed in St. Louis at about 3 a.m. CT on Friday morning after playing a three-hour, 45-minute game in Houston on Thursday night.
"It's a cop-out, but still a reasonable excuse, I would imagine, at the same time," Matheny said. "You can see guys were dragging today. I still believe that this is a defining time for this team because of the schedule, because of the travel. You start to figure out what you're made of, individually and collectively."
Friday's game opened a stretch of 15 straight games against American League Central clubs for the Cardinals, who now own a 117-104 all-time record in Interleague Play.
With the loss, the Cardinals fell out of a second-place tie in the National League Central and now sit three games behind the first-place Reds.
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.