By NICOLINO DIBENEDETTO
(AP) -- Matt Carpenter is providing some unexpected - and clutch - punch at the plate for the St. Louis Cardinals.
The rookie's recent success may mean a return to the lineup as the Cardinals go for a fourth win in a row against the struggling Cincinnati Reds at Busch Stadium on Wednesday night.
Carpenter is hitting .409 with two doubles, two triples and one homer while tying David Freese with a team-leading 11 RBIs. His run production is more impressive considering he's only started five of the nine games he's played for the reigning World Series champion.
Usually a third baseman, Carpenter has been starting at first, and he wasn't in the starting lineup Tuesday. However, he delivered when the Cardinals (8-3) needed him to, hitting a pinch-hit, bases-loaded sacrifice fly to clinch a 2-1, 10-inning win over Cincinnati (4-7).
"Bases loaded, chance to win a ballgame as a pinch-hitter, that's a situation you want to be in," Carpenter said. "I mean, my heart was pumping a little bit. As a hitter, you dream of it. It's a lot of fun, and it's lot more fun when you pull it off."
Carpenter's dramatic performance against the Reds also came two days after he went 4 for 4 with a homer, a triple and five RBIs to spur a 10-3 win over Chicago.
While Carpenter's production has been a pleasant surprise, the same could be said for Carlos Beltran's. The veteran right fielder is hitting .351 with four homers and five RBIs after getting two hits Tuesday, including a solo shot.
Beltran is 5 for 12 in this six-game homestand, with St. Louis 3-1 thus far.
Jaime Garcia (1-0, 4.22 ERA) gets the ball for another start against the Reds.
The left-hander struggled against the NL Central rival last Wednesday, giving up three runs and 11 hits before getting pulled with two outs in the fifth of a 4-3 loss at Cincinnati.
"I wasn't the best," Garcia said. "I was battling. It's part of the game. I don't want to make excuses. They have a good lineup. I was getting ahead, but I wasn't putting them away."
He has one loss in seven decisions against the Reds, against whom he has a 3.00 ERA in eight career starts. He's dominated them in winning all four home starts, posting a 2.19 ERA and 22 strikeouts in 24 2-3 innings.
Garcia is making his season debut at Busch Stadium, where he compiled a 1.83 ERA in winning his last three starts of 2011, a streak that started with a win over the Reds on Sept. 3.
Cincinnati has dropped four of five on this 10-game road trip, hitting .172.
"We're playing just good enough to lose right now," manager Dusty Baker said. "We just have to execute better. You practice and practice and preach and talk about things, it's just not happening."
Mat Latos (0-1, 5.59) takes the mound looking to show some improvement in order to win his first game with Cincinnati.
The right-hander lasted five innings after allowing two runs with three walks in a 3-2 loss in 10 at Washington on Thursday. It was still better than his season debut April 7, when he was lifted with two outs in the fifth after surrendering four runs and seven hits in an 8-3 home defeat to Miami.
Things might not get much better for Latos in St. Louis, either. He lost both of his starts there with San Diego, getting pounded for 15 runs and 17 hits in 5 1-3 innings.
He won his most recent meeting with the Cardinals at home May 25, however, yielding one run in eight innings.
Updated April 18, 2012