MILWAUKEE -- Starting pitching wasn't supposed to be a question mark for the Cardinals.
For whatever reason, that strength has recently turned into a weakness.
After Jason Marquis went seven innings and surrendered one run on Memorial Day against the Astros, not one of the Cardinals' starters has pitched seven innings, putting serious strain on the bullpen.
If you couple that with Albert Pujols' oblique injury, it should be no surprise the Cardinals have fallen out of first in the National League Central and are 2-6 since Marquis' start.
"The only way anybody survives is pitching," said Cardinals manager Tony La Russa.
Friday's starter Mark Mulder has especially struggled of late, losing his last three starts and surrendered 10 and 12 hits in his last two starts respectively.
But the pitching woes were never more evident for the Cardinals than during their recent three-game series against the now first-place Reds.
In getting swept at Busch Stadium for the first time, two of the Cardinals' starters didn't make it six innings and the bullpen surrendered 11 runs. In eight games against the Reds this season, the pitching staff's ERA is 5.25.
"We had one good offensive day against Cincinnati, two not-so-good offensive days and three not-good pitching days," La Russa said.
Edmonds out, Spiezio in: With left-hander Jorge De La Rosa starting for the Brewers and Jim Edmonds playing at less than full strength because of a strained abdominal wall, La Russa elected to start switch-hitting utilityman Scott Spiezio at first base on Friday.
Spiezio returned to the Cardinals on Tuesday after missing seven games with an upper respiratory-tract infection. Spiezio said he was feeling better than he was a week ago, but described himself on Friday as "75 percent, maybe."
"I get better in such small increments, and it's frustrating," Spiezio said. "Today I ate half a sandwich."
Spiezio said he's lost at least 11 pounds since becoming ill. He spent the team's off-day in his hometown of Joliet, Ill. Thursday night he tried to go to bed at 10 p.m. but could not get to sleep until 8:30 on Friday morning.
Still, Speizio said he would be fine once the game started and that playing a position that doesn't require as much running would help.
"It's a good way to come back in," Spiezio said. "Once you come in, your adrenaline just takes over."
Spiezio did an admirable job by hitting .289 when he filled in for Scott Rolen at third base while he was out with bronchitis earlier this season.
"If you're playing well, you're normally going to find ways to get him back in there right away," La Russa said.
Edmonds said he was fine, and La Russa added that Edmonds would play on Saturday.
Bigbie update: One Cardinals official said outfielder Larry Bigbie was fine and was recovering after undergoing surgery to repair an umbilical hernia on Thursday. Bigbie was placed on the disabled list on Tuesday.
Baby 'birds: Triple-A Memphis extended its losing streak to five games, with an 18-2 loss to Albuquerque on Thursday. Starter John Webb (3-5), one of the Redbirds' top pitchers in recent weeks, was charged with nine runs, eight earned in five-plus innings. Scott Seabol, a former Redbirds third baseman, started Thursday's game at second base for Albuquerque. He tied a Pacific Coast League record by hitting 15 home runs in May. ... Double-A Springfield lost, 8-4, to Wichita. Springfield had 12 hits in the game, but went only 2-for-13 with runners in scoring position. The Cardinals have lost four straight games. ... Class A Palm Beach picked up a 10-7 victory against Vero Beach. Shortstop Tyler Green had a double and a stolen base to pace the Cardinals. ... Class A Quad Cities won its third straight game, defeating Cedar Rapids, 7-3. The Swing have one won nine of their last 10.
Player of the Day: Green reached base in all five plate appearances and added two RBIs from the leadoff spot.
Hot and cold: Entering Friday's game, Rolen has 19 hits in his last 20 games. ... So Taguchi has hit safely in seven of his last 10 starts. ... Braden Looper has not given up a run in 18 of his 24 games. ... In his last 15 at-bats, Hector Luna is 0-for-15. ... Reliever Brad Thompson has allowed 10 runs in his last eight outings.
On deck: The Cardinals continue their three-game series against the Brewers on Saturday. First pitch is set for 6:05 p.m. CT, and the Cardinals will send Jason Marquis out to face the Brewers' Chris Capuano.
John Sahly is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.