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PITTSBURGH (AP) -- Joe Kelly began the season in the St. Louis Cardinals' bullpen with an electric fastball and an identity crisis.
Consider the crisis solved.
At the moment, Kelly has become The Stopper.
The right-hander allowed four hits over six solid innings to win his fourth straight start and the Cardinals moved back into a tie for first place in the NL Central with a 7-2 victory over the Pittsburgh Pirates on Sunday.
Kelly (7-3) walked two and struck out five while remaining unbeaten since being moved to the starting rotation full-time in July.
"He's kind of figured himself out," St. Louis manager Mike Matheny said. "Early in the season, he was confused. He thought he should be a strikeout guy at 97 (mph), but with the movement on his fastball he'd be crazy not to use that movement to try to command the bottom of the zone and get ground balls, too."
Kelly received plenty of help from an offense that snapped out of a three-game funk by tagging Pittsburgh spot starter Kris Johnson (0-2).
Matt Holliday and David Freese drove in two runs apiece while Matt Carpenter, Allen Craig, Yadier Molina and Shane Robinson added two hits each for St. Louis.
The Cardinals managed all of one run over the first 18 innings of the series, losses that came at the hands of proven veterans Francisco Liriano and A.J. Burnett. On Sunday they faced a 28-year-old making his first major league start who was nearly out of baseball two years ago.
"For us to come back out in a day game after scoring one run the first two nights was really big," Freese said. "It finally gave us a little momentum."
Pittsburgh's push for an NL Central title could go down to the wire. The Pirates reclaimed first place with a 7-1 victory Saturday night but St. Louis responded by knocking around Johnson, who took the hill after Pittsburgh manager Clint Hurdle decided to give struggling All-Star Jeff Locke a much-needed breather.
Locke is 1-2 with a 6.88 ERA in the second half, and Hurdle thought a few days off would allow the left-hander to work on his mechanics and get some rest.
Locke won't pitch again until next weekend at the earliest. If Pittsburgh decides he needs even more time off, it will likely have to look elsewhere for help after the Cardinals took it to Johnson.
Carpenter doubled to open the game and Robinson followed with a walk. Craig and Molina provided consecutive RBI singles, and Jon Jay added a sacrifice fly to stake Kelly to a 3-0 lead before he threw his first pitch.
The advantage grew in the third when Freese doubled to score Craig and Molina and end Johnson's day. Two weeks after limiting Arizona to one run in six innings of relief in his first major league appearance, Johnson gave up five runs on seven hits in two-plus innings.
"These are the kind of situations you want to be put in, I just didn't take advantage of them when I had the chance," Johnson said. "I worked all my life to get here and to fall short today, just going to have to get back on the field, get back on the throwing program and get back to where we were before."
Justin Morneau went 1 for 3 in his debut with the Pirates a day after Pittsburgh acquired the first baseman from Minnesota to bolster the franchise's bid for its first playoff appearance in 21 years.
Kelly has been a pleasant surprise since moving into the rotation. He never let the Pirates in the game, allowing only an RBI single by Marlon Byrd in the sixth.
By then the Cardinals had things well in hand as baseball's tightest division race once again drew even.
"My velocity was a lot better than in my last start, my sinker was really working and I was able to pitch to both sides of the plate," Kelly said.
The Pirates, whose 79 wins are tied for the franchise's high-water mark since 1992, made two bold moves last week in hopes of drawing ahead. They brought in Byrd and catcher John Buck from the New York Mets on Tuesday, then made an even bigger splash Saturday when they convinced Morneau to leave Minnesota after 11 seasons.
Morneau arrived at PNC Park midway through Saturday night's blowout and watched the remainder of the game from the dugout. He got a better view on Sunday, playing first base and batting sixth.
The 2006 AL MVP grounded out in his first plate appearance, walked in his second and then lined a single to right field his third time up. He ended his first game for Pittsburgh with a deep fly to the warning track in the ninth.
NOTES: Pittsburgh LHP Wandy Rodriguez is dealing with arthritis in his pitching arm. Rodriguez, who has been on the disabled list since July with forearm tightness, is expected to resume his throwing program this week after a visit with Dr. James Andrews revealed no structural damage to the arm. Pirates general manager Neal Huntington said the team remains hopeful Rodriguez can return in some capacity down the stretch. ... The Cardinals activated C Tony Cruz from the 15-day disabled list even though Cruz hasn't been cleared to swing a bat as he recovers from a broken forearm. Cruz would be used only in an emergency. ... The Pirates begin a three-game series in Milwaukee on Monday. Charlie Morton (6-3, 2.14 ERA) faces Tyler Thornburg (1-0, 1.94). ... St. Louis travels to Cincinnati on Monday to begin a four-game set with the Reds. Adam Wainwright (15-8, 2.96) starts for the Cardinals against Mat Latos (13-5, 3.03). ... The Cardinals sent reliever Michael Blazek to Milwaukee to complete the trade they made Friday for RHP John Axford.
PITTSBURGH (AP) -- Lance Lynn can't get anybody out. St. Louis can't score any runs. And with a month to go in an increasingly unpredictable season, the Cardinals find themselves trailing the Pittsburgh Pirates in the NL Central.
Pittsburgh ace A.J. Burnett held the punchless Cardinals to four hits over seven innings and the Pirates rolled to a 7-1 victory Saturday night to move back in front of the tightest division race in baseball.
Lynn (13-9) gave up seven runs and 10 hits in four erratic innings to lose his fourth straight decision.
"I've got to do better than I did tonight," he said. "It was unacceptable. I didn't get the job done. I've got to make better pitches in big situations and not let the big innings happen. I've just got to get better and I will."
Lynn received little help from the typically potent St. Louis offense. The Cardinals have scored just one run during their three-game losing streak.
"We've had a few balls hit hard, but not a lot," manager Mike Matheny said. "I like what our offense has done over the majority of the season. You don't want to take a couple of games and start making conclusions. We're just going to keep going about it."
The Cardinals still lead the National League in batting average and runs but are 5-10 against the Pirates this season. Pittsburgh received another jolt early Saturday afternoon when first baseman Justin Morneau was acquired from the Minnesota Twins.
Matheny and Lynn both believe the current slide is nothing more than a hiccup.
"I'm not happy with way I'm throwing the ball, but I'm going to fix it and I'm looking forward to the next month because it's going to be better," Lynn said.
It can't get much worse for Lynn after the Pirates jumped on him early.
Pittsburgh went in front 2-0 in the second inning on RBI singles by Burnett and Jose Tabata. Marlon Byrd drove in Pedro Alvarez to spark the third, and Russell Martin followed with a three-run homer to give Burnett all the support he needed.
"You could really feel the momentum shift there," Matheny said. "You don't want that to happen. You want your team to keep grinding, but you could feel things shift. Our guys kept fighting and our bullpen did a great job of holding them, but we never got much going."
Burnett's command had something to do with it. Mixing in a newly mastered changeup, Burnett (7-9) struck out six and walked one as the Pirates improved to 79-56 and moved within three victories of their first winning season since 1992.
"It's a great feat," Burnett said. "It's been a long time, but our goals have been higher than that."
That's certainly evident after the Pirates put together their second big trade in five days. Pittsburgh brought in Marlon Byrd and John Buck from the New York Mets on Tuesday.
Byrd homered in his Pirates debut on Wednesday. Morneau won't get a chance until Sunday at the earliest. Manager Clint Hurdle hoped Morneau would be available on Saturday night if needed. Instead, the Pirates were already up by six runs when Morneau popped into the dugout. He spent the next hour joking around with his new teammates.
"You try to get here as quick as you can because you want to be a part of this," Morneau said.
Important baseball as the calendar flips to September is an annual rite of summer in St. Louis, but the pitching staff has begun to fray after five months of dominance.
Lynn appeared on his way to a career year after winning his 13th game of the season in a romp over Cincinnati four weeks ago. His ERA over his last four starts is 7.66.
Pittsburgh ranks 10th in the NL in runs scored, one of the main reasons general manager Neal Huntington aggressively pursued Morneau. But the Pirates are averaging 5.2 runs per game during their current six-game homestand, and Morneau's addition gives Pittsburgh another proven bat to join MVP contender Andrew McCutchen and slugging third baseman Pedro Alvarez.
NOTES: Reliever John Axford, acquired on Friday from Milwaukee, pitched a perfect seventh in his Cardinals debut. ... The Pirates have outhomered St. Louis 18-3 in 15 meetings this season. ... St. Louis SS Pete Kozma grounded out while pinch-hitting for Lynn and is hitless in his last 29 at-bats. ... The series concludes Sunday. Joe Kelly (6-3, 2.91 ERA) starts for St. Louis against Kris Johnson (0-1, 3.00). ... The Cardinals have not settled on a starter for Tuesday in Cincinnati. Michael Wacha, Carlos Martinez and Tyler Lyons are all under consideration.
PITTSBURGH (AP) -- The Minnesota Twins have traded Justin Morneau to the Pittsburgh Pirates, sending the veteran first baseman to a playoff-contending team for the final month of the season.
The deal was done on Saturday before the deadline. The Twins obtained outfielder Alex Presley and either a player to be named or cash.
Morneau is in the final year of his contract, making $14 million. He has been with the Twins for 11 seasons, winning the American League MVP award in 2006 and becoming one of the best hitters in the game until a concussion knocked him out of action in 2010. His production hasn't been the same since.
Morneau batted .259 with 32 doubles, 17 home runs and 74 RBIs for the Twins this year in 495 at-bats.
PITTSBURGH (AP) -- Shelby Miller's confidence remains intact.
Unfortunately for the St. Louis Cardinals rookie pitcher, so do his struggles against the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Slumping Garrett Jones hit his 100th career homer and drove in four runs and the Pirates beat St. Louis 5-0 on Friday night to move into a tie with the Cardinals for the NL Central lead.
"We have an offense that is electric and we've got good pitching," Miller said. "I know this team is going to turn it on. It might not have looked like it tonight but it was a bad night."
It tends to be whenever Miller (12-9) faces the Pirates. He fell to 0-4 against Pittsburgh after 4 1-3 erratic innings, giving up five runs on eight hits, striking out three and walking three.
"I made some mistakes with some pitches and they put good swings on them," Miller said. "At the end of the day, they were better than us."
While blaming himself for not keeping the Cardinals in the game, Miller received little help from an offense that has managed all of one run in Miller's four starts versus the Pirates. St. Louis never even got a runner to third on a night they were no match for revitalized Francisco Liriano.
Two weeks after pitching a complete game in a 5-1 win over the Cardinals, Liriano (15-6) might have been even better. He allowed just two hits while walking two and striking out two.
"They're waiting for him to make a mistake out of over the plate but he's not making many mistakes then you don't have too many options," St. Louis manager Mike Matheny said. "We hit some balls hard but not enough of them in a row then we gave him the lead and that made it even tougher for us."
A rejuvenated Jones certainly helped. The first baseman came in hitting just .119 in August but broke loose after Pittsburgh manager Clint Hurdle gave him some time off earlier this week to figure things out.
For a night, the tinkering worked.
Jones hit a two-run double in the first inning to give Pittsburgh the lead, added a moon shot to the seats in right field off Miller in the fourth and followed it up with an RBI single in the fifth.
That was plenty for Liriano. The left-hander is in the midst of a mid-career revival with the Pirates and he had little trouble improving to 4-0 against the Cardinals, bouncing back from a rough start in San Francisco last weekend to retire 18 of the last 19 batters he faced.
"Anybody with his experience and his determination, when you get a little setback you want to come back and get things right," Hurdle said.
Behind Liriano and Jones, Pittsburgh righted itself following a bumpy three-game set against Milwaukee earlier in the week.
An early boost from Jones certainly helped. Jose Tabata led off with a single and Neil Walker doubled to put runners in scoring position two batters into the game. Miller hit Pedro Alvarez to load the bases and Jones ended a month's worth of frustration by slashing a ball down the right-field line.
Jones kept it going in the fourth, golfing Miller's fastball into the stands. Martin followed with a shot over the wall in center on the next pitch to give Pittsburgh a 4-0 lead.
Jones drove in newly acquired outfielder Marlon Byrd in the fifth, making his entire RBI total this month (four) with three swings of the bat.
Matheny replaced Miller one batter later after a particularly baffling night in which Miller twice walked Liriano - who came in hitting just .075 - on four pitches.
"He never had a real good feel for anything today," Matheny said of Miller. "He threw some good secondary pitches because his fastball wasn't working but they also fouled off a lot of tough pitches and he couldn't command much in the zone."
NOTES: The Cardinals bolstered their bullpen on Friday when they acquired reliever John Axford from Milwaukee. "There's a lot of experience there, a lot of upside," Matheny said. "It's hard to forget that two years ago this guy was one of the top relievers in the game." ... Lance Lynn (13-8, 4.02 ERA) starts for the Cardinals on Saturday against A.J. Burnett (6-9, 3.18).
On Thursday, the Cardinals optioned pitchers Michael Wacha and Michael Blazek while recalling left handed reliever Sam Freeman to add a fresh arm to the bullpen for their weekend series in Pittsburgh. Friday the Cardinals acquired right handed reliever Jon Axford from the Milwaukee Brewers for a player to be named later. Axford lost the closer role in Milwaukee this season. He accumulated a 6-7 mark with a 4.45 ERA. Last season Axford had 35 saves for Milwaukee and lead the National League with 46 saves in 2011.