Maroth roughed up in loss to Brewers

Maroth roughed up in loss

ST.LOUIS -- Entering Friday night's 12-2 loss to the Brewers, the returns on the Mike Maroth experiment weren't what the Cardinals were expecting when they acquired the lefty from the Tigers in late June.

If ever there was a time for Maroth to come through and get back on track it was Friday -- first-place team in town, first game in a critical series, and doing it all in front of the home town fans.

Friday night was supposed to belong to Maroth.

But, when he made that slow walk from the mound to the dugout in the fifth inning, it was apparent that the night belonged to the team from Milwaukee.

Maroth gave up seven runs in four innings on 11 hits and fell to 0-4 since joining the Redbirds.

Since making his first start as a member of the Cardinals on June 25 against the Mets, where Maroth tossed 7 1/3 innings of one-run baseball, the lefty has compiled an 11.86 ERA over his last five starts.

To make matters worse, the Cardinals discovered early in Friday's game that Maroth was tipping his pitches to the Brewers hitters, something they now think he's been doing for a few starts.

"I don't care what your location is, that makes it impossible to get hitters out," Cards manager Tony La Russa said.

Maroth was able to get through the first two innings with a couple of zeros on the scoreboard, but ran into quite a bit of trouble in the third. Corey Hart started the five-run rally with a one-out double to left field. J.J. Hardy followed with an RBI single up the middle for the first run of the game.

Maroth struck out rookie Ryan Braun for the second out, and with just Hardy on at first, it looked like Maroth was going to be able to escape the third with minimal damage.

That changed in a hurry.

"From there, the wheels [fell] off. Whenever he made good pitches, they hit them. When he made bad pitches, they crushed them," catcher Gary Bennett said.

Prince Fielder ripped the first pitch he saw from Maroth for a ground-rule double to right field to put runners on second and third. Bill Hall then singled up the middle for a two-out, two-run hit. Immediately following Hall's single, the game was stopped for a rain delay.

Thirty-nine minutes later, Maroth came back and didn't fare much better. He gave up three singles in a row, and the Brewers quickly piled on two more runs to make it 5-0 after the third.

It was the second start in a row that Maroth has struggled to finish off an inning. In Atlanta, when Maroth surrendered 10 runs in five innings, nine of them came with two outs. On Friday, four of the seven came with two gone in the inning.

"I'm not doing anything different. I don't lighten up at all. I don't think I'm out of the inning or anything like that," Maroth said. "I'm not really sure why it's given me so much trouble."

Maroth gave up a solo homer to Hart in the fourth, and a leadoff double to Hall in the fifth, before being pulled for reliever Kelvin Jimenez.

It's safe to say this isn't the way Maroth wanted to start with his new team, and not the impression he wanted to make with his new teammates.

"I don't really feel like I'm putting more pressure [on myself] because I'm on a new team. I just feel like, with the stretch of games I've gone through, it makes it mentally challenging. It can put a little bit of pressure on me," Maroth said. "I try not to do that. You look at each start and don't worry about the past. I was mentally ready. I was prepared. Now, I've got to wait another five days to get another chance."

La Russa said Maroth will work with pitching coach Dave Duncan and try to correct the problem he has with tipping his pitches, and Maroth will make his next start in Pittsburgh.

The Cardinals offense didn't do much to help out their starter. The Cards managed just two runs off Brewers starter Claudio Vargas. Bennett drove both runs in, going 2-for-3. The trio of Albert Pujols, Chris Duncan and Scott Rolen went 1-for-9, one game after each of them slugged a homer.

Friday night's loss not only rehashed the struggles Maroth has been having since switching leagues, it brought up an issue the Cards have run into lately -- poor play in the first game of the series.

The Cards have lost the first game during five of their last six series, making it much more difficult to win series.

"We already missed this series," La Russa said. "We have to be better early from both sides -- hitting and pitching. We got off to the wrong start. We can't dwell on getting our butts kicked tonight. It's in the past."

The Cards have now been outscored 35-5 in their last four games against the Brewers, dating back to a three-game series they played in Milwaukee in late April.

With a doubleheader scheduled for Saturday, and another game on Sunday, the Cards understand full well how important the next two days are to their season.

"It's the position we've put ourselves in. We have very little room for error," Bennett said. "We have to get going -- now."

Daniel Berk is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.