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STL@CIN: Westbrook shuts down Reds over seven innings

CINCINNATI -- Jake Westbrook figured the fruits of his Spring Training labor would pay off in the regular season. It just took longer than he anticipated. After waiting nine days to make his season debut, the Cardinals right-hander took the mound at Great American Ball Park on Monday night and picked up right where he left off in Jupiter, Fla.

The slimmer and trimmer Westbrook, who dropped nearly 20 pounds in the offseason, shook off some early rust to toss seven strong innings. Meanwhile, the Cardinals' offense produced three home runs in the first inning to help lift St. Louis to a 7-1 victory over the Reds in the opener of a three-game series.

Matt Holliday, David Freese and Yadier Molina each hit their second home runs of the season in the first inning off Reds starter Homer Bailey to give the Cardinals a 4-0 lead.

"We found a few barrels early," said Freese, who went 2-for-5 to extend his hitting streak to 10 games, dating back to Sept. 24. "[Bailey] settled down and pitched well. Fortunately, we got to him early. I don't see us as a home-run-hitting team. But hopefully we keep getting them out of there."

Westbrook, who walked four in the first two innings, allowed just one unearned run and three hits while striking out two over 88 pitches. He allowed seven baserunners in the first four innings, but no runs.

The Reds didn't collect their first hit until Brandon Phillips' single to center with two outs in the fifth.

Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said Westbrook had trouble gripping the ball early in the game, due to the cool conditions. But Westbrook said it was more about just finding his rhythm.

"I was a little erratic," Westbrook said. "I just had to figure it out. It took me some time to get going. Once I did, it was just like Spring Training."

Westbrook (1-0) was coming off a strong spring during which he ranked third among National League pitchers with a 1.50 ERA.

The Cardinals' offense eased the burden for Westbrook early in Monday's game. Bailey retired the first two batters easily. Then, the home-run barrage commenced.

Holliday homered to left. Then, Lance Berkman walked before Freese hit a two-run home run to put the Cardinals ahead, 3-0. On the next pitch, Molina reached the grassy knoll below the batter's eye in center, a 413-foot blast that gave St. Louis a four-run lead.

"It helped me settle down a little bit," Westbrook said. "I was a little amped up. It's always good to get runs, especially early."

The last Reds pitcher to allow three home runs in the first inning was Justin Lehr in 2009. The three homers allowed tied a career-high for Bailey.

"He got two quick outs and then made a couple of pitches that were improperly located," said Reds manager Dusty Baker. "He had one down the middle to Holliday and then a walk, and then one down the middle to Freese. And one down the middle to Yadier. After that, he settled down. But it was a little too late at that time."

Berkman's two-out walk following Holliday's home run keyed the four-run first. Berkman went 1-for-3 to extend his hitting streak to seven games, dating back to Sept. 26. "This is a place where he sees the ball well," said Matheny of Berkman, who has 23 career homers at Great American Ball Park -- most of any active player.

Cincinnati had seven baserunners in the first four innings via four walks, an error, and a pair of fielder's choices. The Reds' first and only run was aided by a Westbrook throwing error.

Zack Cozart hit a slow roller toward the mound. Westbrook fielded it, but threw wildly to first. The ball skidded down the right-field line, allowing Phillips to score from first to close the gap to 4-1 while Cozart reached second. But Westbrook escaped further trouble when he struck out Joey Votto looking to end the inning.

"That was a huge out, for me and for the team," Westbrook said.

Bailey (0-1) pitched 5 2/3 innings and did not allow a run after the rocky first. He walked three and struck out five.

The Cardinals got solid relief work from Marc Rzepczynski, who pitched a perfect eighth inning, and Fernando Salas, who finished the game with a 1-2-3 ninth with two strikeouts.

Westbrook's outing was just the latest in a string of solid outings for Cardinals pitchers to begin the season.

"We were hoping the long delay wouldn't hurt Jake," Matheny said. "He puts his head down and works. That's not his style to have those walks. He's got some confidence going for him now."

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