ST. LOUIS -- Jake Westbrook has talked candidly about needing to be better, about the start-to-start consistency he has lacked since returning from the disabled list and about the potential this rotation -- which trudged into the All-Star break with a 4.38 ERA since the first of June -- has to get back to where it was over the season's first two months.
The Cardinals slotted Westbrook to start the first game out of the break, believing the veteran could set the tone for the season's second half. Westbrook answered the call with 6 1/3 good-enough innings.
And then there was what he did with his bat.
In addition to delivering a quality start in the Cardinals' 9-6 win over the Padres on Friday, Westbrook kick-started the offense with his first career three-hit game. He scored the Cardinals' first two runs and drove in another with a sixth-inning single that knocked San Diego starter Jason Marquis from the game.
Westbrook's career night at the plate -- he finished 3-for-3 -- set St. Louis up to gain a game in the division standings and sent the Padres to their 15th loss in 17 games.
"I ran into a few I guess," Westbrook said of his offensive outburst. "I had a lot of fun out there. It was the first time I had run the bases that much since high school."
That is no hyperbole.
Westbrook entered the game with two hits in 20 at-bats this season and without a multihit game on his professional resume. A self-described "OK" hitter back in his Georgia high school days, Westbrook had tallied only 18 hits and scored just six times in 155 previous Major-League at-bats.
"Yeah, [a] pitcher coming in hitting .100, 2-for-20, you don't expect three hits," Padres manager Bud Black said. "But you know, it's baseball. It really is. Jason got the ball up out over the plate."
Though he battled some command issues early, Westbrook carried a shutout into the seventh. Three hits and a walk within a four-batter span ended Westbrook's night, as well as the team's shutout bid. But by then, the veteran right-hander had already helped mold a five-run lead.
Facing Marquis, who was often a tough out himself during his three-year stint with the Cardinals, Westbrook led off the third with his first hit of the night, a single. A walk to Matt Carpenter pushed Westbrook to second. Jon Jay's sacrifice bunt and Carlos Beltran's sacrifice fly drove him home.
Two innings later, Westbrook lifted a double over the head of right fielder Will Venable. Carpenter quickly plated Westbrook with his own double. Another sacrifice bunt-sacrifice fly sequence put the Cardinals ahead, 3-0.
"Our offense is a little different when Jon Jay is up at the top," manager Mike Matheny said. "When Carlos is in that situation, we're not going to be bunting. But Jon gave us that opportunity against a pitcher who has been throwing very well in Marquis. We started just pecking away."
Already with a multihit game, Westbrook capped his offensive night with a bases-loaded single in the sixth. Matt Adams scored, and the hit turned the order over to Carpenter, who delivered a two-run single.
"Today was a great job all the way around our lineup," said Carpenter, who now has six three-RBI games this season. "Hitting with runners in scoring position again, which we've done well, great sac bunts. [We were] just executing some real tough at-bats."
The Cardinals finished 6-for-14 with runners in scoring position, improving their baseball-best average in such spots to .339.
The six-run cushion was briefly threatened by the Padres, who loaded the bases with one out in the seventh. All-Star Everth Cabrera cut into the lead with a two-run single. But after Westbrook walked off the mound to a standing ovation from a crowd of 43,929 at Busch Stadium, Seth Maness induced his 10th double play in his 31st appearance
With three runs in the bottom half of the frame -- Yadier Molina drove home two, Pete Kozma another -- the Cardinals quelled the comeback attempt from the opposition.
Westbrook improved to 6-4 and worked into the seventh for the third straight start. He was not as ground ball-heavy with his outs on Friday -- an indication that his sinker wasn't super sharp -- but he stranded two by getting Jedd Gyorko to fly out in the first and wiggled out of bases-loaded trouble with an inning-ending double play in the fourth. No National League relief pitcher has garnered more.
Westbrook's improved efficiency as his start wore on allowed him to pitch as deep as he did.
"I could have pitched a little better," Westbrook said. "All in all, for not being as sharp as I would have liked to have been and to only give up two runs, that's not a bad deal."
With a late seven-run lead, Matheny found a spot to get Fernando Salas and Carlos Martinez some work. Neither made their respective outing particularly smooth. Making his first Major League appearance since May 20, Salas, who was recalled before the game, allowed three hits and one run in the eighth.
"We have to trust the fact that he was doing really good, as good as anybody we have in Triple-A, and he was dominating," Matheny said of Salas, who has now been scored upon in seven of his 16 big league appearances this year. "We just have to figure out how to translate that to here."
The Padres then scored three times off the rookie Martinez with a walk and three hits in the ninth. That brought upon a save situation, prompting Matheny to summon Edward Mujica. The All-Star closer sealed the win with his 27th save.
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, By Gosh, It's Langosch, and follow her on Twitter @LangoschMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.