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MIL@STL: Gast hurls 5 1/3 innings of two-run ball

In nearly a month before Friday, the Cardinals had faced just four left-handed starters. But this weekend, the Dodgers throw three lefties their way, something the Cardinals had previously not fared well against this season.

In those previous four games against left-handers, the Cardinals were held to three earned runs over 28 innings. They entered the Dodgers series hitting .223 against left-handers, compared to .281 against right-handers, despite having several right-handed hitters in the middle of their lineup, including Matt Holliday, Allen Craig and Yadier Molina.

But if the Cardinals were struggling against lefties, they showed no signs of it on Friday night against Dodgers lefty Chris Capuano, hitting him for five earned runs, including homers by Craig and David Freese in a 7-0 victory.

Saturday's lefty is Ted Lilly, who will start after being activated from the disabled list this week. Lilly strained his rib cage in April, exiting a game versus the Rockies having allowed four earned runs in three innings.

The Cardinals will counter with rookie John Gast, who makes the first road start of his career, after winning his first two decisions at Busch Stadium.

"I believe that is one that will come out in a wash in the long haul of the season," Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said of his team's numbers against lefties. "There's no reason why our guys would struggle, necessarily, just against left-handed pitchers. They've been going about their work the right way, and with as strong of a right-handed middle of the lineup that we have, I would imagine those numbers would even out."

Matheny added that it isn't fair to lump all left-handed pitchers into one category, considering they all have different styles and strengths.

"They're all so different," he said. "You could throw two righties out there that are completely different style pitchers and they have success against one and not the other. It's the same with lefties. We have to see if they can adjust to whatever their game plan is. None of them are the same."

Lilly is one of four straight left-handed starters for the Dodgers, marking the first time they sent four in a row to the mound since Eric Stults, Eric Milton, Clayton Kershaw and Randy Wolf did it in May 2009.

The Dodgers, who have struggled this season despite the club's high payroll, are last in the NL West. Manager Don Mattingly criticized his team's mental toughness at the end of a six-day road trip on Wednesday.

Dodgers president Stan Kasten backed his manager on Friday, adding that the blame for the Dodgers' poor start extends beyond the manager's office.

"I think all of us, from me on down, can do more," Kasten said. "We're evaluating every day. We haven't broken through yet."

Cardinals: Injured pitchers making progress
Cardinals pitchers Chris Carpenter and Jake Westbrook have made progress in their respective rehabilitation programs.

Carpenter responded well enough to an extended bullpen session that he may face live hitters as early as Tuesday. He's been throwing off the mound for several weeks and is getting closer to a Minor League rehab assignment.

Westbrook played catch to test his injured right elbow Friday and said it "felt not bad." He plans to throw on flat ground again Saturday before making a decision on his longer-term rehab plan.

And Jaime Garcia, the furthest from returning to the field, underwent surgery on his left shoulder on Friday. Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak said the Cardinals are optimistic that Garcia will be ready by the start of next season.

Dodgers: Ramirez closing in on rehab assignment
Shortstop Hanley Ramirez is closer to a Minor League rehab assignment as the Dodgers take a cautious approach to his return from a strained left hamstring.

After running curves, taking batting practice and fielding ground balls on Friday, Ramirez said he will appear in rehab games with Class A Rancho Cucamonga soon.

"It's almost June and I've only played four games," Ramirez said. "That's never happened in my career. They support me and I'm trying everything I can to stay healthy. It just happens. I've got to stay mentally strong, keep working and come back and help this team in some ballgames."

Worth noting
• The Dodgers moved pitching prospect Aaron Miller to the outfield, where he played at Baylor University until his sophomore season. He was selected 36th overall as a left-handed pitcher by the Dodgers in the 2009 First-Year Player Draft.

• Cardinals top prospect Oscar Taveras is closer to returning to action after being sidelined since May 12 with an ankle injury. Farm director John Vuch said Friday that Sunday is the target date for his return with their Triple-A club.

• In his second appearance since being recalled to the Majors, right-hander Mitchell Boggs pitched a scoreless ninth inning for the Cardinals, striking out one batter.

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