CINCINNATI -- John Smoltz had trouble gripping the ball Wednesday night and is hoping he still has a chance at being a postseason starter for the St. Louis Cardinals.
Smoltz gave up Laynce Nix's first career grand slam in four shaky innings as the Cardinals lost 6-1 to the Cincinnati Reds.
St. Louis has dropped three straight since clinching the NL Central title with a 6-3 win Saturday at Colorado and lost five of six overall. Smoltz (1-3) gave up six runs and six hits with five walks and three strikeouts.
"I'm not even going to look at it as a game I can get really mad about," Smoltz said. "I'm certainly not going to look at my body of work and say this game was indicative of the way I've been throwing."
Manager Tony La Russa was more concerned about his team's lack of offense.
"The score is what it is and that's all I'm going to say about it," La Russa said. "I take a positive in that they scored six runs early and didn't score any more after that. We got just one run. Obviously, there is more that our offense should produce."
Bronson Arroyo allowed one run and four hits in 8 1/3 innings, falling just short of his fourth complete game of the season. The right-hander improved to 7-5 with a 2.07 ERA in his last 16 starts, tying his career high with his 15th victory of the season.
"I'm happy with my season," said Arroyo, who didn't miss a start despite getting two cortisone shots in his right hand to treat carpal tunnel syndrome. "It hasn't gone the way we wanted it to as a team, but physically, I felt good. Those two shots got me where I am now."
Cincinnati manager Dusty Baker replaced Arroyo with Nick Masset after Mark DeRosa flied out with a runner on first, bringing Albert Pujols to the plate.
"He said he was running on empty and his legs were spent," Baker said. "When I heard that, you go get him, especially late in the season, 111 pitches and Pujols up there."
The Cardinals loaded the bases before Ryan Ludwick struck out to end the game.
Cincinnati scored twice in the second and four in the third as Smoltz struggled with his control. The gametime temperature was 59 degrees, and the right-hander had trouble gripping the ball. He tossed several out of play even before trying to pitch with them.
Balls are supposed to be rubbed with a special mud before each game, a job usually performed by the home team's clubhouse crew.
"I've been pitching a long time," Smoltz said. "It's the worst baseballs I've ever pitched with in my life. The other guy was pitching with them, too. He did a nice job. It was part of the battle. I went out and battled. I had no feel for the baseball. That's about the worst thing you can have as a pitcher. They were brand new. They were absolutely not rubbed up. You can blame it on the weather but the balls were not rubbed up."
"They were fine for me," Arroyo said. "They don't mud them up as much here as they do at other places. It was a cool night, and it's hard to hold on sometimes."
Smoltz threw 43 of his 87 pitches in the second and issued three of his five walks, including one to Drew Stubbs with the bases loaded that gave Cincinnati a 2-0 lead. Two more walks sandwiched around Scott Rolen's double loaded the bases before Nix's 15th homer of the season.
"We really wanted to win this one for Bronson," Nix said. "He's been so solid all year, especially the last two months. We were happy that we were able to finish this one off and get this win."
Smoltz, who signed with St. Louis as a free agent on Aug. 19, is 0-3 in six starts since winning at San Diego in his Cardinals debut on Aug. 23.
Arroyo (15-13) retired his first nine batters before Skip Schumaker led off the fourth with a sinking liner to left that just got under the glove of the diving Nix. After DeRosa struck out, Pujols lined an RBI single into center field.
Arroyo also had 15 wins last season for the Reds. ... Cincinnati activated OF Chris Dickerson from the 15-day disabled list before the game. Dickerson had been on the DL since Aug. 25 with a severely sprained left ankle. ... RHP Justin Lehr will start for Cincinnati on Friday against Pittsburgh instead of LHP Matt Maloney, who needs more time to get completely over a blister on his left middle finger.