ST. LOUIS – Working on three days' rest for the first time in his career, Jake Westbrook was at his best.
Distancing himself from four shaky starts this month, Westbrook threw six innings of three-hit ball in the St. Louis Cardinals' 3-0 victory Sunday night.
"I didn't notice anything at all," Westbrook said. "I felt great. It was kind of one of those things where coming into the night that didn't even cross my mind at all. It was just a matter of going out there and being better than I have been."
Yadier Molina hit a three-run homer in the sixth off the 100th pitch from Edinson Volquez for the Cardinals, who took two of three and broke a tie with Cincinnati for first place in the NL Central. St. Louis is 11-0-1 in home series against the Reds since June 2006.
"Well, the numbers don't lie, but I think this is a different ballclub," Reds outfielder Jonny Gomes said. "With the new core of guys here, it's a different ballclub and hopefully we'll be able to turn that around soon."
Molina, in the middle of the teams' brawl last August after taking exception to Brandon Phillips' bat tap on his shin guard, seemed to relish a curtain call.
"I mean, every time you hit a home run, what do you want, to be mad or sad?" Molina said. "No, you've got to enjoy it, man, especially here.
"That's the way you have to play this game, to have fun."
The outing was the longest of the season for Westbrook (2-2), who entered with a 9.82 ERA and was strafed for seven runs in three innings Wednesday against the Nationals. The early hook after 68 pitches perhaps allowed Westbrook to rebound.
"It was kind of one of those things where unfortunately I didn't pitch very well so they could get me out of there," Westbrook said.
Albert Pujols was removed for precautionary reasons after seven innings with mild tightness in right hamstring, slowing up noticeably halfway down the line on a groundout to end the seventh. While optimistic, he wasn't ready to guarantee he'd be in the lineup Tuesday when the Cardinals play at Houston to begin a six-game trip.
"I don't want to say yes and not be there," Pujols said. "I'm a little bit sore."
Brandon Phillips had a pair of doubles for the Reds, who were shut out for the first time and have lost nine of 11.
Volquez (2-1), who warmed up but did not pitch in a rain-delayed game Friday, had all seven of his strikeouts in the first four innings and limited the Cardinals to four hits in the first five before fading. Matt Holliday doubled with one out, followed by an intentional walk to Lance Berkman, and Daniel Descalso fouled out before Molina jumped on a first-pitch fastball for his first homer.
Volquez said he shook off a sign from catcher Ryan Hanigan, who wanted a changeup.
"I just threw the wrong pitch," Volquez said. "That was my call, too. We had got him out before with breaking ball, fastball and changeup."
Phillips doubled with one out in the fourth for the first hit off Westbrook and doubled again in the sixth, both times ignoring boos from fans who can't forget his role in the dustup last August. Umpires presumably can't forget either, with plate umpire John Hirshbeck warning both benches after Aroldis Chapman threw well inside against Molina in the eighth inning.
Molina didn't think Chapman was intentionally buzzing him.
"No, I don't think so, I don't think they did it," Molina said. "But if they did I don't care, we got the win."
Volquez replaced Sam LeCure in the series finale, with LeCure the probable pitcher Monday night in Milwaukee. Manager Dusty Baker confirmed only that LeCure would pitch sometime in the Brewers series.
Westbrook struck out four and walked three while throwing 87 pitches. He's 8-18 with a 5.00 ERA for his career in April, by far his worst month, even after mastering the Reds. His previous outing, on six days' rest due to a rainout, was his shortest in nearly four seasons.
Mitchell Boggs worked the ninth for his third save in as many chances since replacing Ryan Franklin at the beginning of a 4-2 homestand and relievers combined for six strikeouts in three innings. The Cardinals have won 10 of 14 overall.
Notes: Tony La Russa is much improved from a virus leaving the right side of his face swollen and eye nearly closed earlier in the homestand. ... Molina threw out a runner attempting to steal and homered in the same game for the fifth time in his career, according to STATS LLC. ... Reds RHP Homer Bailey (shoulder) worked 5 1-3 scoreless innings in a rehab start for Triple-A Indianapolis, allowing three hits with six strikeouts and a walk, and the team will decide Monday whether he will need another start.