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. Jones used the downtime to work with hitting coach Jay Bell and assistant hitting coach Jeff Branson.
"It was a good mental break for a couple days. I was just excited to get back in there," Jones said. "It was a big game, big series. I made some adjustments and took it into the game and I felt good. I felt good, aggressive and strong and it was nice to be able to contribute to the win."
Jones also got some advice from Pirates right fielder Marlon Byrd, who was acquired Tuesday from the New York Mets in a trade.
"When he first got here, he came up to me and said you're a guy who can hit 30-40 home runs and he started talking to me about hitting and the few things he mentioned to me just made a lot of sense," Jones said.
Meanwhile, Liriano struck six, walked two and ran his record to 8-1 in starts after Pirates losses this season.
Liriano lasted just four innings and gave up four runs in his previous start last Saturday at San Francisco.
"He's a competitor, a big-time competitor and those games continued to balance you, they continue to let you know there's work to be done," Jones said.
The left-hander 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.
"I think they're going about it the right way," St. Louis manager Mike Matheny said of his hitters' approach against Liriano. "They're waiting for him to make a mistake out of over the plate, but he's not making many mistakes and that doesn't give you too many options.
"We hit some balls hard but not enough of them in a row and he pitched great. Then we gave him the lead and that made it even tougher for us."
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. The rookie 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.
"I made some mistakes with some pitches and they put good swings on them," Miller said. "I was just battling all night. It wasn't a good night."
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 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 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 when his one-out single drove in Byrd, who had doubled.
NOTES: St. Louis acquired RHP John Axford from Milwaukee on Friday morning for a player to be named. Axford, who did not appear in Friday's game, 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 SS Pete Kozma is hitless in his last 28 at-bats after going 0-for-3. ... 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.