ST. LOUIS — Fresh off the disabled list, Atlanta left-hander Paul Maholm was happy with the way he pitched. At least the first several innings, that is.
In his first start since leaving a July 20 outing with a bruised left wrist, Maholm threw four solid innings against St. Louis before running out of gas in the fifth and sixth.
"Everything feels good," Maholm said after the Cardinals rallied to beat the Braves 6-2 on Thursday night. "I felt good the first four innings. I managed the lineup - until the fifth."
The Cardinals scored three runs during a seven-pitch stretch that allowed them go in front for good, 4-2.
Maholm was activated from the disabled list earlier in the day and was looking forward to his first outing in 32 days. He did not allow a hit until the fourth inning and retired seven batters in a row at one point.
"I thought he did fine for his first time in over a month," manager Fredi Gonzalez said. "That's a tough lineup to navigate. I thought he did a nice job.
He gave us an opportunity to win the game."
Maholm allowed five runs, four earned and five hits in 5 1-3 innings. He struck out four and walked three.
"It was good to get out there and compete against a tough lineup," Maholm said. "Hopefully in five days, I'll be able to make some adjustments and get back out there."
St. Louis starter Joe Kelly (5-3) admittedly was not at his finest in besting Maholm. Still, he was good enough to impress the hard-hitting NL East leaders.
"I didn't have any of my good stuff," said Kelly, who threw 109 pitches. "From pitch one — to the last pitch — nothing was easy."
Kelly improved to 4-0 with a 1.99 ERA in his five August starts. The Cardinals are 7-1 in his eight starts since he rejoined the starting rotation on July 6.
"We needed a solid outing from him and he was very good," St. Louis manager Mike Matheny said. "He did a nice job for us."
The Braves played without Jason Heyward, who is out with a broken right jaw after he was beaned during Wednesday's 4-1 win at the New York Mets. The outfielder had surgery on Thursday in Atlanta and could miss the rest of the regular season.
Atlanta was unable to solve Kelly, who gave up seven hits and two runs in six innings. The right-hander allowed runners in five of six innings but retired the last four batters he faced.
"He did a good job of keeping us off balance," Atlanta outfielder Justin Upton said. "He threw his fastball in the zone and got it done."
Kelly may not have been pleased with the effort, but his teammates certainly were impressed.
"He's like having a Ferrari in your garage," Matt Carpenter said. "He's settling in as a starter and he's running with it. I love it when he goes out there and competes. He's aggressive and he's pitching with confidence."
Upton hit his 24th homer, but the Braves lost for the second time in three games at the start of a six-game trip. Atlanta had won eight of its last nine regular-season games against St. Louis.
Matt Holliday went 2 for 3 and drove in a run, matching the amount of hits he had during a 2-for-24 slide over his previous six games. He doubled and scored in the fourth, then capped St. Louis' three-run fifth with an RBI double that made it 4-2.
David Freese had a run-scoring groundout in the fourth and an RBI single in the seventh.
NOTES: INF Elliot Johnson made his first start for the Braves and broke out of an 0-for-31 slump with a second-inning single. He was claimed off waivers from Kansas City on Wednesday. ... Atlanta's Kris Medlen (10-11, 3.71 ERA) will face Adam Wainwright (14-7, 2.66 ERA) in the second game of the four-game set on Friday.