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By John Perrotto, The Sports Xchange August 30, 2013 9:50 PM
PITTSBURGH -- Garrett Jones couldn't have picked a better time to break out of his slump. The first baseman went 3-for-4 with his 100th career home run and four RBIs to lead the Pittsburgh Pirates to a 5-0 whitewash of the St. Louis Cardinals on Friday night in the opener of a pivotal three-game series at PNC Park. Pirates starter Francisco Liriano (15-6) was dazzling. The left-hander threw eight innings of two-hit ball and combined with Mark Melancon, who allowed two hits in the ninth, on the Pirates' 15th shutout of the season as Pittsburgh moved into a tie with the Cardinals for the National League Central lead. Both teams are 78-56 with 28 games remaining and play five more times in the next nine days, including a three-game series next weekend at St. Louis. Jones came into the game with only one hit in his previous 34 at-bats, a skid that dropped his batting average to .235 and caused him to be benched for the previous three games by manager Clint Hurdle. Liriano struck out six and walked two. Liriano is 8-1 in starts after Pirates losses this season. He has won each of his three starts against St. Louis, holding the highest-scoring team in the NL to two runs and 10 hits in 24 innings. Jose Tabata and Neil Walker, the top two hitters in the Pirates' batting order, had two hits each. The Pirates won for just the second time in their last six games. Matt Holliday had two of the Cardinals' three hits. While Liriano had his way with the Cardinals again, St. Louis' Shelby Miller (12-9) struggled against Pittsburgh once more. Miller fell to 0-4 versus the Pirates this season after getting tagged for five runs and eight hits in 4 1/3 innings with three walks and three strikeouts. The Cardinals were shut out for the 10th time this season while losing for just the fourth time in their last 13 games. The Pirates struck for two runs in the bottom of the first inning when the slumping Jones hit a two-run double to right field with two outs and the bases loaded. Tabata led off with a single and took third on Walker's double before Pedro Alvarez was hit by a pitch with one out to load the bases. Jones and Russell Martin led off the fourth inning with back-to-back home runs to double the Pirates' lead to 4-0. It was Jones' 13th of the season, Martin went deep for the 12th time and Pittsburgh went back-to-back for the third time this year. Jones notched his fourth RBI in the fifth inning when his one-out single drove in Marlon Byrd, who had doubled. NOTES: St. Louis acquired RHP John Axford from Milwaukee on Friday morning for a player to be named. Axford and will pitch in middle relief in front of setup man Trevor Rosenthal and closer Edward Mujica. ... The Cardinals reassigned RHP Carlos Martinez from Triple-A Memphis to Double-A Springfield, a procedural move that would allow them to call him up Sept. 3 to start against Cincinnati that night. ... Pittsburgh RHP Jason Grilli, who has converted 30 of 31 save opportunities, will begin a rehab assignment on Saturday with Double-A Altoona. He has been on the disabled list since July 23 with a strained right forearm. ... St. Louis RHP Lance Lynn (13-8, 4.02 ERA) is scheduled to start Saturday night against Pirates RHP A.J. Burnett (6-9, 3.18). ... Neither team has announced a starter for Sunday's series finale.