ST. LOUIS -- While the top seed for the postseason is something the Reds wouldn't mind getting, it wasn't the primary motivation on Monday night.
Being healthy and ready for the playoffs took precedence. In a 4-2 Reds loss to the Cardinals at Busch Stadium, Bronson Arroyo had what amounted to a tuneup for his final regular-season game, throwing only 73 pitches over five innings before being pulled.
"We decided to take him out early before the game started," said manager Dusty Baker, following his first game back after recovering from a mild stroke. "And we wanted to get some of our relievers a chance to pitch, which we did with [Alfredo] Simon and [J.J.] Hoover, who hadn't pitched in a week. It was a matter of trying to win the game but trying to get your guys fresh at the same time."
Not that Arroyo was thrilled about that, especially after he gave up three third-inning runs and six hits overall with one walk and six strikeouts.
"It doesn't matter. It doesn't take the sting out of it," Arroyo said. "We could be 160-0 and a loss is a loss is a loss. That sits on the back of my baseball card until the day I die."
A Nationals loss to the Phillies kept them and the Reds even with matching 97-63 records and a tie for the No. 1 seed in the National League playoffs. Washington, which lost its game vs. the Phillies, still clinched the NL East when the Braves lost to the Pirates. Their magic number to claim the top seed over the Reds is two.
A Cincinnati loss coupled with a Washington win on Tuesday would leave the Reds with the No. 2 seed in the playoffs and playing the No. 3 seed Giants in the NL Division Series.
Arroyo, who finished the season 12-10 with a 3.74 ERA in 32 starts, eclipsed the 200-innings plateau for the seventh time in the last eight seasons, reaching 202 innings. He became the fourth Reds starter to reach 200 innings, something the team hasn't done since 1943 and no one in baseball has achieved since the 2006 White Sox.
"It's been a good year for that, just as a staff as a whole," Arroyo said. "It's been an exceptional year. I am happy to have gone that deep, especially pitching only 32 times this year. It was a pretty good accomplishment for me."
What he missed out on was a 13th victory, which would have given the club at least four 13-game winners.
That die was cast after St. Louis notched a three-run bottom of the third, sparked by Cardinals starter Jaime Garcia hitting a 1-0 breaking ball for a leadoff homer that landed just over the right-field wall near the foul pole. Garcia entered the night 4-for-4 lifetime vs. Arroyo.
"I knew. I'm not going to lie," Garcia said. "I knew I was 4-for-4. He's a really good pitcher. He made a mistake, and I put a good swing on the ball. He's one of those guys where I've gotten lucky. He makes a mistake and I'm able to get a swing."
Following a walk and a hit with one out, Allen Craig hit an RBI double to left field that scored Carlos Beltran, and Yadier Molina added a sacrifice fly that scored Matt Holliday.
"Bronson has been pitching a lot better than his record indicates," Baker said. "He's probably one of the tough-luck guys in our league as far as getting run support. If he just keeps pitching like this, we'll get him some runs."
Against Garcia, the Reds managed two runs over his 6 2/3 innings. They took a 1-0 lead in the third inning on Brandon Phillips' two-out RBI single to left field that scored Drew Stubbs.
After the Cardinals added a run in the sixth against Simon, Scott Rolen hit a one-out double in the seventh and later scored from third base on Ryan Hanigan's sacrifice fly.
"[Garcia] was getting his outs," Phillips said. "We didn't do our job, and he did his."
Simon pitched two innings following Arroyo, and Hoover worked one perfect eighth inning in his first work since Sept. 23. The Reds took some precautions by lifting Ryan Ludwick in a double-switch for the sixth after he just returned from a groin injury. Phillips, who slipped on second base for the second straight game while running in the third inning, was taken out in the eighth to protect him from further aggravating a minor groin injury.
"Right now it's about preservation and conservation," Baker said.
As for Arroyo, he feels all ready to go. All signs point to him starting Game 2 of the NLDS, regardless of the opponent.
"I'm as good as I'm ever going to be," Arroyo said. "My command has been good, my stuff is there and I'm healthy. We've done all we can to this point. That's what you train eight months for, and you just hope when you hit the mound in those playoff games that you feel good and strong and make good pitches when you're supposed to."