Rookie Garcia pitches 7 scoreless innings as Cards blank Braves

ST. LOUIS -- Jaime Garcia made the St. Louis Cardinals' rotation as the fifth starter. Against the punchless Atlanta Braves, the rookie left-hander looked like an ace again.

The 23-year-old Garcia lowered his ERA to 1.04 with seven scoreless innings and David Freese had two hits and two RBIs in a 6-0 victory Wednesday night, saddling the Braves with their eighth straight loss.

"Since I was in spring training when I was fighting for a spot I said, 'This is going to be my year,' " the 23-year-old Garcia said. "So far, it's been so good."

Albert Pujols and Colby Rasmus each had two hits and an RBI for the Cardinals, who have won four in a row and can sweep the Braves for the first time since 1993 in the finale of a four-game set Thursday, with Adam Wainwright coming off consecutive complete games. Jair Jurrjens will pitch for the Braves, who have scored only 13 runs during their worst slump since losing 10 in a row in June 2006.

"I won't say demoralizing," Chipper Jones said. "It's just another downer."

Most Atlanta hitters took early batting practice and manager Bobby Cox gave struggling rookie Jason Heyward, in a 1-for-20 tailspin, a day off. The top of the order, Yunel Escobar, Martin Prado and Jones, was 0 for 8 with a walk against Garcia (2-1).

"You have high hopes every time you walk out there on the field and then bam, before you can blink, you're down 2-0," Jones said. "It's just like here we go again.

"But I promise you, we'll win another game this year and when we do, hopefully, we will stop the bleeding."

Braves starter Kenshin Kawakami (0-4) allowed two runs on wild pitches and gave up four earned runs in 4 1/3 innings, the shortest of his four starts. He issued three of Atlanta's four intentional walks, with the Cardinals' 3-4-5-6 hitters ending up with one apiece.

"Every start has not been solid, and today it was just worse," Kawakami said through an interpreter. "It's pretty disappointing."

Garcia, the Cardinals' first lefty starter to win a game since Mark Mulder in 2006, allowed four singles and struck out five. He hasn't allowed a run in 14 innings at home, also working seven scoreless innings in a 2-1, 20-inning loss to the Mets on April 17.

"You know what, I've been feeling like that the whole time," Garcia said. "All the games I've been feeling really good."

Garcia benefited from not facing an ace for the first time, after opposing Yovani Gallardo, Johan Santana and Tim Lincecum in his first three starts. He also said he never shook off catcher Yadier Molina, the NL Gold Glove winner the last two seasons.

"He's doing a very good job of maintaining his composure and keeping his delivery together," manager Tony La Russa said. "He has a lot to work with."

The rotation is 11-3 and leads the majors with a 2.58 ERA including Wainwright (3-1, 1.69), Chris Carpenter (3-0, 3.48) and Brad Penny (3-0, 0.94).

"That's why we're having a good April," La Russa said. "It's where it starts. But five more months. ..."

Pujols had an RBI single in the first, and doubled and scored in a three-run fifth that included two intentional walks and put the Cardinals ahead 6-0. Rasmus' RBI double in the fifth off Jonny Venters was his first hit in 13 at-bats off left-handers and Freese's two-run single capped the rally.

Game notes
Pujols leads the majors with six intentional walks. ... The Braves hit 12 homers the first 13 games, but have hit only one the last eight games. ... The Cardinals' NL-leading 14-7 record matches their start last year, when they won the Central. They're an NL-best 153-109 in March and April since 2000. ... St. Louis pitchers haven't allowed a homer at home this season, covering 92 innings. ... The Cardinals' sweep over Atlanta in 1993 was a three-game series.