CHICAGO – Carlos Villanueva gave his manager exactly what he asked of him. It still wasn't enough.
Villanueva tossed six strong innings, giving up only four hits, while striking out four and walking two in a 3-2 loss to the St. Louios Cardinals on Friday.
The only runs scored off Villanueva came during a two-run first inning – and it ended up being the difference. Despite the rocky first, manager Dale Sveum had nothing but positives on Villanueva's outing.
"It was perfect," said Sveum. "Six innings, 90 pitches, obviously settled down after the first inning. Everything got much sharper and he did a great job."
It was the 10th start of the season for Villanueva (2-5) and his second after returning from a two-month stint in the bullpen.
"I don't want to say it's like a light switch, but when it comes to (going between starting and relieving) I can adapt real quick," Villanueva said. "I felt good, my arm's been feeling strong. Maybe my time in the bullpen helped me rest it a little bit. Hopefully I can continue to give the boys a chance to win in the second half."
Villanueva's day didn't start out as well as he'd hoped. Matt Carpenter led off the game with a single and one out later, Carlos Beltran tripled him in. Allen Craig singled in Beltran to give the Cardinals a 2-0 lead that St. Louis would never relinquish.
After going hitless in four plate appearances on Thursday, Beltran bounced back with three hits and was a home run short of the cycle.
"Yesterday wasn't a good one and today was better, for sure," Beltran said. "That's baseball. Some days you feel like you come to the ballpark and you try and nothing works out your way, and today it seems like everything worked out my way."
With an unusual 3:05 start at Wrigley Field, the shadows made things difficult in batter's box and reliever-turned-starter Joe Kelly took advantage of his team jumping out to a quick lead. Kelly (2-3) allowed three hits and a run in 5 1-3 innings, striking out four and walking two.
"You definitely want to be playing with the lead," Sveum said. "It isn't too fun to hit in those kind of shadows. You can tell there aren't a whole lot of good approaches or good swings when those shadows are out."
The sun also played tricks on the outfielders, as right fielder Nate Schierholtz had trouble picking up the ball all day and had a ball get by him when he dove for a Rob Johnson line drive in the seventh. Johnson would end up getting a triple and would come around to score a crucial run on Carpenter's double, on a ball that got by centerfielder Brian Bogusevic who also attempted to make a diving catch.
Starlin Castro went 2-for-3 with two runs scored, and he cut the lead in half with a solo home run in the eighth.
But the Cubs would get no closer as the next six batters went down in order with Edward Mujica pitching a perfect ninth to earn his 26th save in 27 opportunities.
NOTES: Cardinals LF Matt Holliday was held out Friday with right hamstring tightness and is day-to-day. ... In addition to signing first round draft pick Kris Bryant, the Cubs also inked 12th round RHP Trevor Clifton and 19th round C Will Remillard. ... Saturday's pitchers will be the Cardinals' Lance Lynn (11-3, 3.67 ERA) and Matt Garza (5-1, 3.22). Garza has been the subject of trade rumors in recent days. "He's obviously throwing extremely well and he's very healthy and there are teams out there looking for pitching who are going to call and try to acquire him," Cubs president Theo Epstein said before Friday's game. "He's helping us win games right now, there's a chance to possibly retain him beyond this year, so we'll just balance all that out and do what's best for the organization." ... The Cubs have used 42 players this season, a pre-All-Star break team record. ... The Cubs came into Friday's game leading the National League with 293 extra-base hits.