PITTSBURGH (AP) - Paul Maholm likes to work quickly. It's when the Pittsburgh left-hander starts working too quickly, however, that things get dicey.
Struggling with his command early, Maholm's August swoon continued on Wednesday night in a 7-2 loss to St. Louis.
Plagued by slow starts all season, Maholm surrendered three runs in the first inning as the Cardinals salvaged the final game of the three-game set.
``In the first I wasn't able to make a couple pitches and get out of it,' Maholm said. ``To me that just sums up my last month or so. To me I wasn't able to make that one pitch and they took advantage of it.'
Maholm (6-14) settled down after the rocky first but it wasn't enough to keep him from dropping his fifth straight decision. Manager Clint Hurdle pointed to Maholm's mechanics as an issue.
``Against right-handed batters he's just not getting set over the rubber,' Hurdle said. ``Just in a hurry. His arm drags and he leaves the ball up and away.'
Or in the case of the two-run homer by St. Louis outfielder Allen Craig, really up and away.
Craig has struggled since his return from the disabled list on Aug. 10, going hitless in nine at_bats. He worked the count full in his first at-bat against Maholm then - perhaps a little anxious to bust loose - swung at a pitch near his eyes even though St. Louis slugger Albert Pujols waited on deck.
Maholm heard the ball come off the bat and figured it was a routine pop-up to center. It wasn't. The ball sailed into the Cardinals bullpen to give St. Louis a quick 2-0 lead.
``I don't know why he swung, he should have just taken it for a walk,' Maholm said. ``But obviously it looked good to him.'
Craig added a solo shot in the seventh off reliever Brad Lincoln and finished 4 for 5 with three RBIs. Yadier Molina added three hits for the Cardinals, who are trying to stay within shouting distance of front-running Milwaukee in the NL Central.
``That was definitely a big win to kind of stop things there,' Craig said. ``It would have been tough to lose this game, definitely.'
It was the kind of positive reinforcement he needed after a longer than expected visit to the DL. He anticipated being out 3-6 weeks after slamming into the wall in Houston. It was nearly two months before he was back on the field.
``It's tough to put a timetable on something like that,' Craig said. ``It's a unique injury in a unique spot and eight weeks is what it was. I busted my butt to get my legs strong and rehab.'
Kyle Lohse (11-7) picked up his 99th career victory by pitching seven solid innings. The right-hander allowed two runs and five hits, struck out seven and walked one.
Craig's blast kick-started the offense, and the Cardinals made it 3-0 later in the inning on a run-scoring single by Molina.
The early control problems have been a constant issue with Maholm this season. Though his numbers are solid - his ERA is a respectable 3.66 - he's consistently run into trouble getting the first three outs. He started the game giving up a team-high 15 first-inning runs this season before the Cardinals added three to that total.
``I wouldn't say I was too amped up but I wanted to get off to a good start, I wanted to put up a zero,' Maholm said. ``I just wasn't able to make pitches.'
Lohse nearly matched Maholm's early troubles, loading the bases in the bottom of the first. But he escaped when Ryan Ludwick's sinking line drive to right was corralled by Craig.
``It was a little scary there in the first, but after that I felt like I got rolling,' Lohse said.
He retired nine straight at one point and struck out the side in the fourth.
``That was a product of getting to what I've been doing all year when I'm successful: Just getting ahead of guys and coming right at them,' Lohse said. ``It's not going to happen every time like that, but when you're getting ahead of guys and making them swing at your pitches, you're usually going to have more success than not.'
Lohse's only mistake came in the fifth when Jose Tabata hit a two-run homer to right.
There was some sentiment to Tabata's hit. The game marked his first career start in right field and he has spoken openly about emulating legendary Hall of Famer Roberto Clemente, who played the same position in Pittsburgh for 18 seasons.
Tabata's home run sailed just over the ``Clemente Wall' - adorned with Clemente's retired No. 21 - but the joy would be temporary.
NOTES: Both teams are off Thursday. Pittsburgh opens a three-game series with Cincinnati on Friday. Kevin Correia will start for the Pirates, looking for his 13th victory of the season. ... St. Louis continues a six-game trip in Chicago. ... Pujols entered with a .583 career batting average against Maholm but managed just one hit in three trips against the lefty on Wednesday.
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