The St. Louis Cardinals' rotation has the best ERA in baseball, and it's about to get back the pitcher who had quite a bit to do with that for the first five weeks of the season.
Adam Wainwright lowered the St. Louis' starters ERA to 2.74 by throwing seven shutout innings in Thursday's 2-1 win at the New York Mets . Now, the Cardinals (43-23) are hoping Westbrook (2-1, 1.62 ERA) can seamlessly return to the rotation Friday after spending a month on the disabled list with right elbow inflammation.
The right-hander had a 1.62 ERA through six starts prior to the injury, the best mark in the Cardinals' rotation and one of the best in the majors. Though his peripheral numbers aren't impressive - Westbrook struck out 19 and walked 18 in 39.0 innings - he didn't allow a homer and had a major league-best 76.5 percent ground-ball rate.
He gave up two runs over 10 2-3 innings, walking none and striking out 10, in two rehab starts for Double-A Springfield.
"I've always had elbow issues and I pitched through a lot of it," Westbrook told MLB.com. "I think I'm always going to have something, some sort of feeling in there that's not normal.
"I feel really good right now. I feel really good with the two starts I've had. I feel really encouraged about getting up and down seven times on Sunday, and hopefully it continues to feel that way throughout the year."
He and his teammates should feel quite comfortable on the road. The Cardinals, a major league-best 24-11 on the road, haven't lost a series outside St. Louis since dropping two of three to Arizona to open 2013.
Westbrook went 0-1 with a 2.13 ERA in two starts against Miami last season when St. Louis won five of seven matchups. The Cardinals took three of four in Miami.
After dropping two of three to Milwaukee, the Marlins (19-46) continue their six-game homestand with rookie right-hander Jose Fernandez (3-3, 3.17) on the mound.
The 20-year-old Cuban gave up one run or fewer for the fourth time in seven starts by throwing six innings of one-run ball in Saturday's 2-1, 20-inning win at the New York Mets .
"I've really been trying to make pitches, make good pitches and make them in a good location - that's how it's been," Fernandez told the Marlins' official website. "The catchers, they're calling the right pitches in the right moments, and it's been pretty good."
Fernandez has been outstanding in five home starts, going 1-0 with a 1.55 ERA.
Miami in batting .229 with a major league-worst 3.0 runs per game, but the club is hitting .266 and averaging 4.3 runs during a 6-5 stretch.
Giancarlo Stanton and Logan Morrison could help the club continue its improvement at the plate. Stanton is 3 for 12 with a homer in three games since sitting out six weeks with a hamstring injury, while Morrison is 4 for 9 in three games following offseason right knee surgery.
Morrison likely will return to the lineup after sitting out Wednesday's 10-1 loss.
Left fielder Juan Pierre extended his season-best hitting streak to nine in that game, but he's 1 for 17 off Westbrook.
David Freese should be back in the Cardinals' lineup after getting Thursday off. His career-best 20-game hitting streak, also the longest in the majors this season, ended Wednesday.
Freese is a .464 (13 for 28) career hitter off Marlins pitching.
St. Louis' Carlos Beltran , a career .333 hitter in Miami, will try to hit safely in his 13th consecutive game. He's batting .364 (20 for 55) with four homers and 13 RBIs during his run.
|St. Louis Cardinals|
|May 26, 2013||John Gast||15-Day DL||Left shoulder tightness|
|May 26, 2013||Carlos Beltran||Day-to-Day||Left shoulder soreness|
|May 25, 2013||John Gast||Day-to-Day||Left game - left shoulder tightness|
|May 21, 2013||Fernando Salas||15-Day DL||Right shoulder irritation|
|May 18, 2013||Jaime Garcia||60-Day DL||Left shoulder strain|
|May 09, 2013||Jake Westbrook||15-Day DL||Right elbow inflammation|
|June 09, 2013||Chris Coghlan||15-Day DL||Right calf irritation|
|June 09, 2013||Casey Kotchman||15-Day DL||Strained left oblique|
|May 27, 2013||Alex Sanabia||15-Day DL||Right groin discomfort|
|May 19, 2013||Matt Diaz||15-Day DL||Left knee bone contusion|
|May 08, 2013||Chris Valaika||15-Day DL||Fractured left wrist|
|May 06, 2013||Donovan Solano||15-Day DL||Strained left intercostal muscle|
MIAMI (AP) -- Rookie Jose Fernandez outpitched a rusty Jake Westbrook , and the team with the worst record in the majors beat the team with the best record.
Fernandez had a career-high 10 strikeouts in seven innings Friday, and the Miami Marlins spoiled Westbrook's return from an elbow injury by defeating the St. Louis Cardinals 5-4.
The 20-year-old Fernandez (4-3) became the first pitcher under the age of 21 to strike out 10 or more since Felix Hernandez with Seattle in 2007. Relying heavily on breaking balls, he threw a career-high 107 pitches and allowed three runs, two earned.
"I was looking forward to this start," Fernandez said. "They're a great team. They've got great hitters. Everybody knows the Cardinals, one through nine, can create a mess in two seconds."
Westbrook (2-2), who had been sidelined with elbow inflammation, went five innings in his first game since May 8. He allowed five runs, two of them unearned because of a misplayed grounder by second baseman Matt Carpenter , and his ERA rose to 2.05.
"He wasn't as sharp as he normally is, but he's coming back from an injury," manager Mike Matheny said.
Fernandez settled down after giving up two runs and three hits in the first inning. He had a 1-2-3 third, striking out Carlos Beltran , Matt Holliday and Allen Craig .
"He really was in complete control of that game after the first inning," Marlins manager Mike Redmond said. "He set the tone against a great team, a great lineup, and it was fun to watch him. He can pitch."
Fernandez improved to 4-1 over his past eight starts with a 2.42 ERA. He also singled home a run.
"He did a lot of things right," Matheny said. "We knew he was going to be a handful."
Giancarlo Stanton had three hits, including a two-run double for the Marlins, who won despite going 2 for 15 with runners in scoring position. They've won seven of their past 13 games, their best stretch this season.
Beltran singled in the fifth to extend his hitting streak to 13 games, but Marlins relievers retired the final five batters. Steve Cishek pitched a perfect ninth for his eighth save in 10 chances.
Plate umpire Phil Cuzzi reversed himself on a call in the fifth, which led to a Marlins run. When Ed Lucas tried to bunt, Cuzzi initially said the pitch had been fouled. But after Redmond came onto the field and pointed out the blood on Lucas' hand, Cuzzi ruled he had been hit by the pitch.
"He said, `OK, I'll give it to you.' I said, `Thank you,"' Redmond said. "It broke his skin. He took his glove off, and he had a little cut there. It was bleeding, so it wasn't a tough sell."
Lucas then scored on Stanton's double to make it 5-2.
Carpenter mishandled Derek Dietrich 's grounder for an error to start the second inning, and Miami went on to score two unearned runs. Jeff Mathis had an RBI groundout, and Fernandez followed with a two-out run-scoring single for his third RBI this year.
"I keep getting lucky, man," Fernandez said.
Miami went ahead to stay in the fourth on a single by Dietrich and a run-scoring double by Greg Dobbs . That was one of eight hits off Westbrook.
"I felt good enough to pitch better than that," Westbrook said. "Overall my arm felt good. Just came out on the wrong end."
The Cardinals scored in the first on consecutive RBI singles by Craig and Yadier Molina . The hits came after an error by third baseman Lucas, and one run was unearned.
Jon Jay had a two-out RBI double for the Cardinals in the sixth. David Freese doubled home a run in the eighth.
NOTES: Marlins RHP Nathan Eovaldi , who is on the disabled list with biceps tendinitis, is scheduled to make his season debut Tuesday at Arizona. ... New Dolphins WR Mike Wallace threw out the first pitch. ... The Cardinals rank last in the majors with 18 stolen bases. ... The Cardinals fell to 48-29 in Miami.