"I made good pitches and got a lot of ground balls," Westbrook said. "A lot of them found holes, but if I keep them hitting balls on the ground and making guys mis-hit balls, I'll be better off more times than not. I just need to let my defense work behind me."
The Cardinals spotted Westbrook a two-run cushion thanks to a pair of first-inning RBI singles by Allen Craig and Yadier Molina. But Westbrook, who felt strong physically after missing over a month with right elbow inflammation, did not hold the lead for long.
"I felt good enough to pitch better than that," Westbrook said. "Overall, my arm felt good. I just came out on the wrong end."
Derek Dietrich reached on an error by Matt Carpenter to open the second inning and later scored on a Jeff Mathis groundout. Then Marlins starter Jose Fernandez helped himself, singling home Adeiny Hechavarria to even the score at 2.
"We both gave up those two runs, but he settled down and pitched a lot better than I did after that," Westbrook said.
Fernandez shined after the first inning, allowing just one more run when Miami native Jon Jay doubled home Craig in the sixth to put the Cardinals within two.
"We jumped out to a lead early and we had some chances, but he got the best of us tonight," Jay said. "He could throw 96 [mph] whenever he wants and he's got a good changeup and a good breaking ball. He mixes up his pitches well and did a good job of keeping us off balance."
The rookie held St. Louis to three runs (two earned) on six hits over seven innings while striking out a career-high 10 batters. The Cardinals struck out 12 times Friday, the most they have struck out this season in a nine-inning game.
"We watched him in spring and knew that he was going to be a handful today," Redbirds manager Mike Matheny said. "He threw the ball well. He had a big hit, too, that ended up hurting. He did a lot of things right."
While Fernandez dominated the Cardinals for the majority of Friday's game, the 20-year-old praised St. Louis' lineup afterwards.
"I was looking forward to this start," Fernandez said. "I look forward to every start, but they're a great team. Everybody knows it. They've got great hitters. They've got hitters who can hit it out. They've got guys who are patient. They have guys who will take a 3-2 curveball for a walk. They've got incredible guys, incredible hitters."
But it was Miami's hitters who were better, putting together three runs over Westbrook's final two innings. Greg Dobbs gave the Marlins their first lead of the night with a RBI double in the fourth, and Giancarlo Stanton extended it to three runs on a two-run double in the fifth. Westbrook finished the night allowing five runs (three earned) on eight hits over five innings.
"He wasn't as sharp as he normally is, but he is coming back from an injury," Matheny said. "We know that he's going to get back there and we know that when he gets the ball on the ground, he's doing what we want him to do."
Relievers Joe Kelly, Keith Butler and Kevin Siegrest each threw a scoreless inning to keep the Cardinals in the game, and Matheny appreciated the effort his bullpen gave on Friday.
"They came in throwing good pitches to both sides," Matheny said. "Butler is getting lefties out and making it uncomfortable for righties. They pound the strike zone. Siegrest gets a lot of swings and misses and they have trouble picking him up. They've both done a real nice job with the opportunities we've given them, and Joe Kelly did a real nice job after not being in the mound in forever."
Down two runs in the eighth, David Freese cut the Cardinals' deficit in half with a two-out RBI double off Chad Qualls. But Marlins reliever Mike Dunn stranded Freese at second when he struck out Jay to end the threat. An inning later, Steve Cishek retired pinch-hitters Daniel Descalso and Matt Adams and second baseman Matt Carpenter in order to close out the game.
"We made a good run, but it was too little, too late," Matheny said. "We put together some good at-bats, but the mistakes cost us today."