ST. LOUIS -- The strange season of right-hander Jeremy Guthrie took a turn in the right direction on Wednesday night, even though it didn't lead to a victory.Guthrie, in his first start since June 17, held the Cardinals to six hits and two runs in six innings, but Rockies batters struck out 11 times in a 4-1 loss at Busch Stadium before a crowd of 42,338 that was greeted by a temperature of 103 -- the highest for a game in St. Louis going back to 1988. "It's important for teammates to recognize where I've come up short this year," said Guthrie (3-8), who drove in the Rockies' only run with a single in the fifth inning. "Everybody's making moves here to help the team, and hopefully I can stay positive. I feel like I've done that, for the most part. That's how you progress in baseball and in life." Guthrie was the main reason that it was a 2-1 game for much of the night. The biggest missed opportunity for the Rockies came in the sixth, when they had two on, but Cardinals first baseman Allen Craig dove to knock down a Jonathan Herrera liner and start an unusual first-to-second-to-third double play. "Allen made an amazing play," said Cardinals starter Adam Wainwright (7-8), who benefited from the play while holding the Rockies to one run and eight hits in six innings. "I'm running over to try and cover the bag, and I'm not thinking about second, and I'm definitely not thinking about third. That was one of those welcome surprises." The play, like this season, was anything but welcome for the Rockies (31-50), who needed fortune to contend but never expected to be in last place at the halfway point of a 162-game season. Manager Jim Tracy cited injuries to pitchers Jhoulys Chacin and Juan Nicasio, the fact that veteran pitcher Jorge De La Rosa has yet to return from last year's elbow surgery -- and might not -- and the absence of veteran regulars Troy Tulowitzki and Ramon Hernandez as part of the explanation. "Injury is a part of this game, but to that magnitude, I guarantee you that's going to leave a mark, and it has," Tracy said. But poor starting pitching was the clear No. 1 on the list of woes, and Guthrie's struggles have been emblematic. The Rockies gave Guthrie, acquired from Baltimore for pitchers Jason Hammel and Matt Lindstrom, the Opening Day start at Houston and saw him pitch well in a few early games, although he struggled at Coors Field. But a 1-5 record in a seven-game span, which ended with a June 17 start in Detroit in which he gave up seven runs and 11 hits in 1 1/3 innings, led the club to remove him from the rotation and go with a four-man starter system. But after Josh Outman couldn't make it past two innings on Monday against the Cardinals in a 9-3 loss, it became clear that Guthrie's start on Wednesday would be an opportunity to return to the rotation. Guthrie also drove in the Rockies' only run, on a single off Wainwright in the fifth after Herrera tripled with one out. The Rockies loaded the bases with two out, but Wainwright got Tyler Colvin to fly to center to end the threat. Guthrie was hurt by two mistakes. He walked Jon Jay with one out in the first, and Matt Holliday doubled for a one-run Cardinals lead, then he hit Jay with the bases loaded and two out in the second to force in another run. "Just tried to go in, fastball in, didn't want to make a mistake there, and got it too far in," Guthrie said. From there he held the Cards to two hits and kept the Rockies close. "That's the guy that pitched on Opening Day in Houston, the guy that pitched in Milwaukee, and they were seven-inning starts," Tracy said. "He gave us a chance to win." Wainwright also struck out Todd Helton to end the first with runners at second and third -- Carlos Gonzalez had singled to run his hitting streak to 12 games and Colvin had doubled. Wainwright struck out seven and gave up eight hits. Reliever Adam Ottavino, the Cardinals' top Draft pick in 2006, struggled for the second time in the series. David Freese's bases-loaded single in the eighth drove in the two earned runs charged to Ottavino in two-thirds of an inning. Ottavino, who pitched briefly for the Cards in 2010 but joined the Rockies after the Cards waived him late in Spring Training, gave up two runs in 1 1/3 innings on Monday night. Cardinals closer Jason Motte earned his 18th save.
Thomas Harding is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Hardball in the Rockies, and follow him on Twitter @harding_at_mlb. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.