Cardinals hope to extend winning streak against Reds to 10 games this season, 14 overall

Now that the division races are starting to sort themselves out in June, the St. Louis Cardinals would love to get back the Carlos Martinez of April.

The Cardinals’ ace started six games from April 4 through May 2 and St. Louis won all six, with Martinez going 3-0 while never allowing more than one run in any start. Among them was a 3-2 victory at Cincinnati on April 15 in which he pitched two-hit ball over 7.0 shutout innings, striking out 11.

But Martinez subsequently missed nearly a month with a strained right lat muscle. And he was a bit shaky in his return Tuesday, walking five while giving up two runs and four hits over 4.0 innings during a 7-4 loss to the Miami Marlins.

“I didn’t want to throw hard, just in case of (reinjuring) my arm,” said Martinez, who admittedly held back on his velocity and averaged 93.5 mph on his four-seam fastball. “I’m just trying to be ready for the rest of the season’s games.”

The Cardinals certainly hope Martinez (3-2, 1.83 ERA) won’t hold anything back when he faces the Reds on Sunday at Great American Ball Park.

Martinez takes a 7-3 career record and a 3.18 ERA in 21 games (10 starts) versus Cincinnati into the start as the Cardinals go for their third series sweep of the Reds already this season.

Martinez opposes Reds right-hander Anthony DeSclafani (0-1, 7.20 ERA), who will be making only his second start since September 2016 after missing all of last season with a sprained ulnar collateral ligament and the first two months of this season with an oblique injury.

Nobody’s perfect — well, except the Cardinals against the Reds. The Cardinals are 9-0 against them this season — 6-0 in Cincinnati — and have won 13 in a row against them dating to last season. That’s the second-longest streak in franchise history, eclipsed only by the Cardinals’ 18-game streak against — yes, them again — the Reds in 1930-31.

The Cardinals also have won a club record 11 in a row in Cincinnati, where they swept a four-game series in April. They’ve won 14 of their last 15 overall against the Reds.

On Saturday, Jose Martinez hit his third homer of the series and his fourth in three games, Yadier Molina delivered a three-run double in the third inning and Michael Wacha (8-1) improved to 11-1 against Cincinnati while pitching effectively over 5.2 innings as St. Louis won 6-4.

With closer Bud Norris unavailable, Cardinals manager Mike Matheny shuffled his bullpen for the final 3.1 innings, with the hard-throwing Jordan Hicks striking out the side in the ninth for his first career save.

“He was great,” Matheny said. “It was one of those days we got what we needed. We didn’t have Bud and we needed Jordan to come through for us.”

“He’s getting better and better,” Molina said of Hicks, who has thrown his fastball in the 105-mph range at times this season. “It’s been a good year for him.”

It’s been a bad year for the Reds, who dropped their sixth in seven games and ninth in 12 contests. They staged late-inning comebacks against the Rockies on Thursday while winning and against the Cardinals on Friday while losing, but they couldn’t mount one Saturday after St. Louis opened a 5-0 lead in the third inning.

“We’ve got to find a way to turn these (opposition) three-runs innings into one run innings, the four-run innings into two,” interim manager Jim Riggleman said. “It’s tough to ask your club to fight back every night.”

Yet Riggleman said that’s what they’ll do if necessary.

“It’s been pounded into them and that’s just the way we play,” Riggleman said of giving maximum effort despite already being out of the NL Central race.

Martinez has had success against most of the Reds’ top hitters: Joey Votto is only 3 for 22 against him, while Billy Hamilton is 4 for 23, Scooter Gennett is 8 for 34 and Scott Schebler is 3 for 15. Adam Duvall and Eugenio Suarez are 5 for 15.

DeSclafani, who was injured late in spring training, made his first start of the season Tuesday, yielding four runs and six hits over 5.0 innings of a 9-6 loss to the Colorado Rockies.

Before his injuries, DeSclafani was 4-1 with a 2.13 ERA against the Cardinals in seven games (six starts).

Kolten Wong is 0 for 11 against him and Molina is 2 for 14, but Greg Garcia is 4 for 9 and Matt Carpenter is 6 for 14 with two home runs.