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Cardinals take 2 of 3 with 4-1 win over Nationals: Michael Wacha outduels Max Scherzer

Max Scherzer and Michael Wacha went head-to-head in the series finale in Nationals Park. Scherzer was mad efficient with just 82 pitches in 7.0 IP, but Wacha and the St. Louis Cardinals came out on top with a 4-1 win in Washington.

Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

5. TGIS = Thank God It's Scherzday: In his third start in a Washington Nationals uniform and second straight against the Nats' NL East rivals from Philadelphia last Friday night in the nation's capital, Max Scherzer held Phillies' hitters to a run on four hits over eight innings of work. Scherzer struck out nine, induced seven ground ball outs and threw just 100 pitches total to the 29 batters he faced. And he did it all with a fastball his manager said afterwards wasn't particularly sharp.

"Not his best fastball tonight," Matt Williams said after the 7-2 win, "but he pitched."

"He was able to pitch through early trouble and then went into the eighth inning, using his other pitches.

"He's low 3/4s, so for the righty it's a little bit crossfire. It's the ability to pitch at 92 and reach back for 96 when he needs it." -Matt Williams on what makes Max Scherzer so tough to face

"Breaking ball, changeup was really effective against the lefties. Fastball when he needed it, but he could reach back a little bit tonight and get it when he wanted to. But he used his other pitches really effectively tonight."

Williams was impressed with the veteran right-hander's ability to use what was working and adjust to what he had on the mound.

"He understands how to pitch," Williams said.

"He's got a game plan going in and adjusts during the course of a game if it's not there for him in a certain inning or he just doesn't have what he wants that night, he can go to other pitches. That's experience and that's understanding how to pitch."

Scherzer's fourth start for the Nationals was against a St. Louis Cardinals team he hadn't faced since 2009 before taking the mound this afternoon.

Two pitches into today's outing there were runners on the corners after a double to right-center by Matt Carpenter and a bloop single to left by Jason Heyward on the first pitch each batter saw. Scherzer threw a 94 mph 2-2 fastball inside to Matt Holliday that was called strike three by home plate ump Adam Hamari, but bounced an 0-2 change to Matt Adams that got by catcher Jose Lobaton and allowed Carpenter to score from third, 1-0. Adams sent a fly to center for out no.2 and a called strike three on a 95 mph 2-2 fastball to Jhonny Peralta ended a 19-pitch frame.

Scherzer set the Cards down in order in the second, in a quick, 14-pitch inning that ended when Tony Cruz took a 1-2 slider for a called strike three. 33 pitches overall after two.

Matt Carpenter was 2 for 2 today after a one-out single to center in the Cardinals' third, but Jason Heyward grounded into an inning-ending 4-6-3 to give Scherzer a quick, ten-pitch inning and leave him at 43 total after three. Scherzer threw six pitches in a 1-2-3 fourth to put him at 49 total.

Two fly balls to left and a called third strike on an 93 mph 0-2 fastball knee-high outside gave Scherzer another scoreless frame and another six-pitch inning left him at 55 total after five with 14 of 15 set down after the first two batters of the game reached base.

Jason Heyward singled to center with two down on Scherzer's sixth pitch in the sixth inning, and the Nats' starter hit Matt Holliday with an 0-1 fastball to put two on with two out. Matt Adams stepped in next and lined a single to left to bring Heyward in and make it 2-1 Cardinals. A force at second on a Jhonny Peralta grounder ended an 11-pitch inning. 66 total.

Tony Cruz yanked an 0-1 fastball through the left side of the infield for a two-out single in the top of the seventh, but Ryan Zimmerman made a slick backhand grab on a one-hopper to first from Michael Wacha to end a 16-pitch frame that left Scherzer at 82 total.

Max Scherzer's Line: 7.0 IP, 6 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 0 BB, 4 Ks, 82 P, 60 S, 8/5 GO/FO.

4. Wacha, Wacha, Wacha and stuff: In his first start against the Washington Nationals back in 2013, Michael Wacha, the 2012 St. Louis Cardinals' 1st Round pick out of Texas A&M, took a no-hit bid into the ninth inning, retired two batters, then gave up a heartbreaking infield single by Ryan Zimmerman. Wacha's night ended there, after 8 ⅔ IP in which he struck out nine and threw a total of 112 pitches.

Now-former Nats' skipper Davey Johnson was impressed with the then-21-year-old right-hander's outing.

"I've seen him a little bit on tv," Johnson told reporters. "I was thinking command was an issue. But it certainly wasn't an issue today. I mean, he's [made] a rapid ascent to the big leagues and he's proved he belongs here. So, they've got a good pitcher."

"He really located his fastball real well," Johnson continued. "Had a little split. Threw hard. Stayed on the corners, in and out. It was impressive."

"Changeup is his best pitch whether it's righty/lefty. He'll throw a big curveball and a slider as well, but he throws strikes and it's good angle." -Matt Williams' scouting report on Michael Wacha

Current Nationals' manager Matt Williams sounded equally impressed with Wacha when he spoke to the press before today's game about the difficult pitcher the Nationals would face in the series finale with the Cards.

So what makes Wacha so difficult to face?

"It's good angle," Williams said. "He's tall and he throws directly over the top, so the fastball down angle is good. Changeup is his best pitch whether it's righty/lefty. He'll throw a big curveball and a slider as well, but he throws strikes and it's good angle. So it's difficult to see the ball, not to mention it comes in there in the mid-90s, so a pretty good pitcher, we're going to have to take advantage of opportunities today."

Wacha took the mound today in Nationals Park with a (2-0) record two starts into his third major league season, with a 1.35 ERA, a 4.57 FIP, two walks and six Ks in 13 ⅓ IP.

The 23-year-old right-hander was making his second start in the nation's capital after giving up five hits and three runs, one earned in seven innings of work in a 3-1 loss to the Nats last April.

Denard Span walked on four pitches in the first at bat of the Nationals' first, and Bryce Harper dropped a one-out single into short center, but two outs later, both runners were stranded at the end of a 16-pitch frame.

Yunel Escobar singled to start the bottom of the second, but two outs later he was stranded at first and Wacha was through two on 28 pitches after a 12-pitch inning. A 14-pitch, 1-2-3 third left him at 42 pitches.

Ryan Zimmerman singled, Clint Robinson walked, but Yunel Escobar grounded into a 6-3 DP. A swinging K by Jose Lobaton stranded Zimmerman at third and gave Wacha four scoreless on 60 pitches after an 18-pitch frame.

Danny Espinosa doubled off the panel of outfield fence to the left of the painted yellow line at the bottom of the right field foul pole in the first at bat of the Nats' fifth. Max Scherzer grounded out to short, allowing Espinosa to take third when Johnny Peralta threw to first base. A replay showed that Matt Adams was nowhere near the bag at first, however, so Scherzer was ruled safe. Denard Span stepped in next and singled to right to tie it up at 1-1.

Wacha was up to 78 pitches after an 18-pitch fifth, 88 pitches after a 10-pitch, 1-2-3 sixth, and 95 pitches after a seven-pitch, 1-2-3 seventh.

Michael Wacha's Line: 7.0 IP, 5 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 2 BB, 6 Ks, 95 P, 61 S, 10/2 GO/FO.

3. Bullpen Woes: Tuesday night, Matt Williams was talking about Drew Storen, assuring reporters that in spite of a blown save he was still confident in his closer and ready to hand him the ball if an opportunity arose.

"Tonight just left one out over. I wouldn't make too much of that. He's throwing the ball effectively. Better sliders tonight, really good sliders." -Matt Williams on Treinen vs Cards on Wednesday

On Wednesday night, Williams was saying similar things about right-hander Blake Treinen after the sinker-balling reliever struggled in another outing, giving up the eventual winning run, two hits and two walks (one intentional) in what was a 5-5 game when he took the mound.

The one-out walk Treinen issued to Jon Jay was followed buy a single to center by Yadier Molina that moved Jay to third and a line drive double to left by Kolten Wong that brought the walk in.

Williams cautioned against reading too much into the outing, which he said could have gone either way for Treinen.

"A couple of base hits," he said, "ball down the line was the decider and he came back and got out of it, but by then the damage was done. Breaking balls for a couple of strikes and the left-hander Wong, the ball was up and out over. Just missed location."

Williams was asked if he was concerned about Treinen, who has allowed runs to score in each of his last four outings.

"I wouldn't make too much of it at this point," Williams said. "We look back to Boston and the pitches he made were really good pitches. Tonight just left one out over. I wouldn't make too much of that. He's throwing the ball effectively. Better sliders tonight, really good sliders. That ball could easily go foul and we get out of that inning. Just the way the ball bounces sometimes."

With an efficient Max Scherzer on the mound today, there wasn't much work for the pen, which got to rest up for the long road trip that starts in Miami.

Matt Thornton and Aaron Barrett worked the eighth. Tanner Roark worked the ninth. Just move on to the turning points, this thread went nowhere...

2. Turning Point(s): Matt Carpenter doubled to right-center on the first pitch of the game and Cardinals' right fielder Jason Heyward singled to left on the second pitch Max Scherzer threw. One out later, Scherzer got up 0-2 on Cards' slugger Matt Adams, but a wild pitch with runners on first and third allowed the first run of the game to come in as St. Louis jumped out to an early 1-0 lead.

The Nationals rallied to tie it up in the bottom of the fifth inning, scoring a run with a help of a replay. Danny Espinosa double to right to start the rally, then took third on a grounder to short by Max Scherzer. Scherzer was originally ruled out at first, but replay showed Matt Adams came off the bag before he caught the throw over from short. With runners on first and third and no one out instead of one down, Denard Span singled to right to bring Espinosa in and tie it up at 1-1.

The Cards rallied and slowed Scherzer's role with two outs in the top of the sixth. Jason Heyward singled to center with two down, moved up on a HBP on Matt Holliday, and scored on a line drive single to left by Matt Adams, 2-1.

1. The Wrap-Up: Matt Thornton took over on the mound for the Nationals in the top of the eighth, giving up a two-out single to center by Matt Holliday before he was lifted for right-hander Aaron Barrett when the Cards replaced Matt Adams (L) with Mark Reynolds (R). Reynolds lined to right on the first pitch he saw, and Danny Espinosa airmailed the throw home. 3-1. Reynolds was too far off second, so Barrett throw from behind home... but into center, allowing another run in, 4-1.

Jordan Walden gave up a leadoff double to right by Ian Desmond in the Nationals' eighth, then walked Bryce Harper to bring the tying run to the plate in the form of Ryan Zimmerman. Zimmerman was first-pitch swinging and he hit into a 6-4-3 DP. Clint Robinson's fly to center ended the frame.

Tanner Roark threw a clean top of the ninth.

Trevor Rosenthal retired the Nats in order. Ballgame.

Nationals now 7-9