John Lackey settled down after a ragged first inning, allowing only one infield hit while he was on the mound the rest of the way.
Not good enough. Not with the way Anthony DeSclafani has been holding down the Cardinals.
The rookie handled St. Louis for the second straight start, striking out a career-high nine, and the Cincinnati Reds turned a big first inning off Lackey into a 3-2 victory Tuesday night.
DeSclafani (7-7), the most experienced member of Cincinnati’s all-rookie rotation with 20 career starts, gave up seven hits and two runs in six innings. Last Wednesday in St. Louis, DeSclafani gave up only three hits in seven innings of a 1-0 win over the NL Central leaders.
“Their guy was pitching pretty well, too,” Lackey (9-7) said. “You’ve got to give him credit.”
Aroldis Chapman fanned two in the ninth — his fastball topping out at 101 mph — for his 23rd save in 24 chances. The lefty has converted 56 consecutive save opportunities at Great American Ball Park since his last failure in September 2012.
Lackey hadn’t allowed three runs in any of his last nine starts. He went six innings, giving up six hits.
“That first inning definitely could have gone a little bit different,” Lackey said. “I threw the ball OK. I needed to make better pitches with two outs.”
The Cardinals have dominated the Reds in recent years, winning 14 of their last 17 series. The Reds had a bit of a breakthrough in St. Louis last week, taking two of three — their first series win at Busch Stadium since 2001.
They got a good start on extending that success with a big first inning. Jay Bruce had an RBI double — his fifth double in the last six games — and Marlon Byrd followed with another double as Cincinnati sent eight batters to the plate.
After that five-hit, 30-pitch inning, Lackey settled in and allowed only the infield single through the next five innings, retiring the last 14 batters he faced.
“It’s unfortunate, the damage that was done there in the first,” manager Mike Matheny said. “He settled down and stayed in that game a lot longer than I expected him to. Unfortunately a lot of damage was done right there in the beginning.”
Randal Grichuk tripled off the wall in center field and Matt Carpenter hit his 14th homer in the third inning, cutting it to 3-2. It was Carpenter’s fourth homer in the last five games.
Billy Hamilton of the Reds initially misjudged Jason Heyward’s fly ball to center in the eighth, but made a stretching, over-the-shoulder catch and slid on his stomach on the warning track to make up for his late break on the ball.
“It’s a game changer,” Matheny said.
Heyward extended his hitting streak to seven games (10 for 22). Grichuk stretched his to seven games (11 for 25). Stephen Piscotty had his snapped at eight games.
Reds: Hamilton rammed his right leg into the outfield wall while trying unsuccessfully to catch Grichuk’s triple in the third inning. He came up wincing and stretched his leg, but stayed in the game.
Cardinals: Carlos Martinez (11-4) allowed five runs and a season-high 10 hits in five innings of a 9-8 win over Colorado last Thursday. He’s 3-1 with a 2.60 ERA in 13 career appearances against the Reds.
Reds: LHP David Holmberg (1-0) makes his second start since he was called up from Triple-A to take Johnny Cueto’s spot in the rotation.