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Weaver, Cards stumble in midseason loss

MLB.com @LangoschMLB

ST. LOUIS -- The Cardinals reached the midway point of the season with a thud on Saturday at Busch Stadium, suffering an 11-4 loss to the Braves that left St. Louis still sifting through a series of questions as it moves into the second half sitting three games above .500.

Two questions, in particular, surfaced in front of a sellout crowd at Busch Stadium, as the Cardinals watched starter Luke Weaver stumble once again and their offense go silent against a rookie left-hander making his sixth career start. That offense, which entered the day ranked 11th in the National League with 341 runs scored, hardly threatened Max Fried, who twirled 6 2/3 scoreless innings for his first win this season.

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ST. LOUIS -- The Cardinals reached the midway point of the season with a thud on Saturday at Busch Stadium, suffering an 11-4 loss to the Braves that left St. Louis still sifting through a series of questions as it moves into the second half sitting three games above .500.

Two questions, in particular, surfaced in front of a sellout crowd at Busch Stadium, as the Cardinals watched starter Luke Weaver stumble once again and their offense go silent against a rookie left-hander making his sixth career start. That offense, which entered the day ranked 11th in the National League with 341 runs scored, hardly threatened Max Fried, who twirled 6 2/3 scoreless innings for his first win this season.

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"[Fried's] command of the strike zone, just his fastball command, his stuff was really good," Braves manager Brian Snitker said. "It was probably as good as I've seen him go up here."

The Cardinals tallied four hits off Fried, giving them only 14 over a span of 25 innings. Before showing signs of life with a four-run ninth, St. Louis had scored just twice since Tuesday.

Video: ATL@STL: Martinez launches a solo home run to center

Concerns about Weaver's hold on a rotation spot were nudged to the forefront, too, after he was peppered for eight runs on 10 hits -- including Nick Markakis' fourth career grand slam -- before exiting in the fifth inning.

"That [grand slam] swayed the game at that particular point pretty radically," said St. Louis manager Mike Matheny, whose club went down, 7-0, with Markakis' swing. "Then, we're just trying to get through it."

The Braves sent 11 batters to the plate and scored six times in Weaver's final frame. It matched the biggest single-inning output an opposing offense has had against the Cardinals this year, and bumped Weaver's ERA to 5.16. Six of the runs Weaver served up on Saturday came via home runs, from Markakis and Ronald Acuna Jr.

"The damage was done on a couple of big swings," said Weaver, who still hasn't won at home this year. "I thought I threw some pitches in some good spots, but it's got to be executed a little bit better. You just have to flush these types of days."

Video: ATL@STL: Martinez, Weaver combine to retire Inciarte

Or learn from them.

That learning curve has been steep for Weaver, who hasn't finished six innings since May 22 and who has just two quality starts in his last 14 appearances. Difficulty pitching down in the zone with consistency has been especially elusive.

"I'm definitely not at all pleased, statistically, with how it's gone," Weaver said. "I think, mechanically, you can fall into some bad habits. Those high fastballs and those low pitches aren't getting swung at because there have been a lot more pitches more thigh-high [that are] more hittable."

"You see some steps forward and a couple steps back," added Matheny. "But we know the kind of pitcher [Weaver] can be."

Weaver's spot in the rotation might have already been more tenuous had the Cardinals not exhausted much of their starting depth. With Alex Reyes done for the season, Adam Wainwright sidelined for months and Michael Wacha out until after the All-Star break, the options have thinned. If St. Louis was to make a swap, Daniel Poncedeleon or Dakota Hudson stand out as deserving candidates.

Plugging Hudson into the rotation, however, would require adding him to the 40-man roster. It's a move the Cardinals have been hesitant to make.

MOMENT THAT MATTERED
Already trailing, 3-0, the Cardinals chose to load the bases with one out in the fifth by intentionally walking Freddie Freeman. That meant Weaver would have to go after Markakis, who leads the Majors in hits. Weaver worked ahead in the count, 1-2, but Markakis stayed alive with a succession of foul balls. He eventually worked the count full before golfing the ninth pitch he saw over the wall. It was the third grand slam Weaver has allowed in his career.

Video: ATL@STL: Markakis belts a grand slam to right field

"I felt like I was in control that whole at-bat," Weaver said. "He made some good swings on some good pitches, and that's why he's one of the best ones right now in the game."

SOUND SMART
With Saturday's appearance, Yadier Molina became the fifth player in franchise history to reach 1,800 games played. Each of the other four -- Stan Musial (3,206), Lou Brock (2,289), Ozzie Smith (1,990) and Enos Slaughter (1,820) -- are enshrined in the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

HE SAID IT
"When you have a pitcher like [Fried], you've just got to tip your cap to him. He just had an outstanding game today. He had his fastball and his curveball really working today." -- Cardinals catcher Francisco Pena

UP NEXT
John Gant (2-2, 3.48 ERA) opened this homestand with seven scoreless innings, and he'll look to close it on another high note when he faces Atlanta's Mike Foltynewicz (5-4, 2.14 ERA) in Sunday's 1:15 p.m. CT series finale. Gant stepped into the rotation for an injured Michael Wacha and earned at least a temporary stay with his career-best performance against the Indians on Tuesday. It was Gant's first win in four starts this season.

Jenifer Langosch has covered the Cardinals for MLB.com since 2012, and previously covered the Pirates from 2007-11. Follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

St. Louis Cardinals, Luke Weaver