ST. LOUIS -- The Cardinals concluded Wednesday with their rotation in disarray. Shelby Miller, forced to exit early with a right elbow bruise, lasted a mere two pitches in his outing. Jake Westbrook, thrown into emergency relief duty, is now unavailable to start as scheduled on Thursday.
It was all undesired context in a game the Cardinals wound up dropping to the Dodgers, 13-4, in front of 43,523 fans at Busch Stadium. The result stung, but it's the impact of pitching plans gone awry that will linger.
Seeking his 12th win, Miller couldn't get his right elbow out of the way when Carl Crawford lined a fastball back to the mound on the second pitch of the game. The ball caromed off Miller's pitching arm so hard that it ended up dropping in left field for a double. After a brief visit from manager Mike Matheny and trainer Chris Conroy, Miller's night was over.
Miller was diagnosed with a right elbow bruise. X-rays came back negative, and Miller hopes to avoid a move to the disabled list.
"It's just a relief that nothing serious happened," said Miller, who was left with seam marks on his elbow. "It's just unfortunate that stuff happens because I want to go out there and help the team win every single day I get the chance to pitch. To only throw two pitches stinks."
Matheny called upon reliever Michael Blazek to close the first inning. In the meantime, Westbrook began to stir. He approached pitching coach Derek Lilliquist to let him know he felt ready to pitch, hustled into the clubhouse to grab his cleats and then headed out to the bullpen to stretch and warm up.
With no defined long reliever and with a desire to stay away from Kevin Siegrist and Seth Maness due to recent usage, Matheny took Westbrook's offer.
"Our starters have been prepared that the next-day guy, if something happens early, you have to be ready to go," Matheny said.
It was Westbrook's first regular-season relief appearance since April 19, 2004, with the Indians. In that one, Westbrook retired all 21 batters he faced. This time, he faced 10 hitters before he could record three second-inning outs. The Dodgers erupted for six runs in the 34-pitch inning.
"Three days of rest is sufficient for most people," Westbrook said. "You want to come in and do what you can. The bottom line is I didn't do that. I just didn't pitch very well, and that hurt us."
The inning started to unravel with a pair of leadoff singles that just eluded the Cardinals' infield defense. A one-out intentional walk backfired when Jerry Hairston snuck a two-run single through into left. Run-scoring hits by Adrian Gonzalez and Skip Schumaker further exacerbated the inning. Westbrook, aware that he was in to keep the bullpen out, had no choice but to endure the beating.
"He probably didn't do as [well] as he wanted to," Miller said, "but that just goes to show how classy our veterans are in this clubhouse and how much they want to help this team."
Westbrook pitched into the sixth before being pulled after allowing four straight two-out singles. Just three days after throwing 87 pitches in a loss to the Reds, Westbrook needed 108 to get through Wednesday's 4 2/3 innings. Westbrook had reached that pitch count only twice in his 16 starts this season.
He allowed nine earned runs for the second time in his career, and the 13 hits allowed represented his second-highest single-game total. Since coming off the disabled list in June, Westbrook has allowed 40 earned runs on 72 hits in 64 innings.
"You have to give a lot of credit to Westbrook in really trying to save their bullpen," Schumaker said. "Luckily for us we got to him, but you got to give a lot of credit to Westbrook."
Saving the bullpen from serious overuse was the silver lining. Though Randy Choate and Keith Butler each had to pitch an inning-plus, the Cardinals used only three of their seven relievers.
When things turned really ugly in the ninth, Matheny summoned catcher Rob Johnson to record the third out. He did so with a strikeout. By then, the Cardinals have given up a season-worst 18 hits. The final four runs were charged to Butler, who is likely headed back to Triple-A on Thursday.
The Cardinals never recovered from the early pitching meltdown as they lost for the 10th time in their last 14 games. Coupled with the Pirates' win, the Cardinals sit three games out of first in the National League Central. It is their largest deficit this season.
After a double play foiled a first-and-third, one-out chance in the first, the Cardinals' offense went relatively quietly against Dodgers starter Ricky Nolasco through the first four. Nolasco's throwing error gave St. Louis an extra out to work with in the fifth, and the Cardinals capitalized by stringing together four consecutive two-out singles. That pushed across three runs.
The Cardinals scored again on Daniel Descalso's RBI single in the sixth, but a team that had not overcome a deficit of more than two runs to win this season would not seriously threaten Los Angeles' large lead.
St. Louis will need a win on Thursday to salvage a series split, but will also have to summon a starter to pitch that game. That will be highly-touted pitching prospect Carlos Martinez, who will make his first Major League start. Martinez is ranked as the Cards' No. 3 prospect, according to MLB.com.
"There is going to be some opportunity that some people weren't expecting," Matheny said. "You never know how something like that works out. It could be a blessing in disguise, give one guy more rest later on. You never know."
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.