ST. LOUIS -- St. Louis native Max Scherzer dazzled in his homecoming to help the Nationals wrap up a sweep of the Cardinals with a 6-1 victory on Sunday. It was behind the strength of its starting staff -- which limited St. Louis to three runs in 20 innings --
ST. LOUIS -- St. Louis native Max Scherzer dazzled in his homecoming to help the Nationals wrap up a sweep of the Cardinals with a 6-1 victory on Sunday. It was behind the strength of its starting staff -- which limited St. Louis to three runs in 20 innings -- that Washington became the first visiting team to complete a three-game sweep at Busch Stadium since June 2013.
"For us to be able to come in here and take three games from them, that's huge, especially on this road trip," Scherzer said. "This road trip is going to tell us where we're at. We started off well."
Cardinals starter Carlos Martinez pitched with flu-like symptoms but still went toe-to-toe with Scherzer through five scoreless innings. In fact, it was Scherzer who had the lone hit Martinez allowed during that stretch. But Martinez blinked in the sixth. Jose Lobaton turned a leadoff single into the game's first run by advancing on a bunt and scoring on a single to center by Matt den Dekker.
The Nationals then piled on in the seventh, scoring three times during a two-pitch span in which Clint Robinson and Danny Espinosa hit back-to-back home runs a combined 839 feet. The Nationals outhomered the Cardinals, 6-2, in the series and tallied 10 of their 17 series runs off the long ball.
• Martinez battles flu, off-field issues vs. Nats
"I'm not feeling good," Martinez said after his start. "With the coughing and stuff like that, I still feel like I have the flu. They went out there and made pretty good swings on those pitches. I feel pretty good because those are the pitches I want to throw."
The Cardinals were never able to advance a runner into scoring position against Scherzer, who limited the club to four singles in seven innings.
• Scherzer makes minor switch in return to form
"They had great pitching," said Cardinals outfielder Randal Grichuk, hitless in his last 20 at-bats. "Their bullpen is good. Their starting pitching is good. That's baseball. You're going to run into some tough guys."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Return to form: Oddly enough, as the Nationals pitchers posted the second-best ERA in baseball to start the season, Scherzer owned the highest ERA on the staff before his start. His outing Sunday was back to his usual form, though, throwing seven scoreless innings with a season-high nine strikeouts.
Cards best Harper: Martinez struck out a season-high eight, including reigning Most Valuable Player Bryce Harper three times. Harper, who had taken one called third strike in April, did so against Martinez in each of his first two at-bats -- first on a 97-mph fastball, then an 87-mph breaking ball. Harper struck out once more against Martinez and then again versus Seung Hwan Oh to complete his first four-strikeout game since 2012.
"We knew coming in that Harper has been very hot and productive," Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said. "But they have quite a few guys who can hurt you. They have a very strong offensive team."
The other guys: The Nationals offense often relied on Daniel Murphy and Harper to provide the brunt of the scoring through the early part of the season. Harper was held hitless in this series, 0-for-11 with a walk, and the Nationals still managed to sweep the Cardinals.
• Ramos returns to Nationals off bereavement list
The bottom of the Nationals' order delivered most of the damage Sunday afternoon, including back-to-back homers from Robinson and Espinosa in the seventh to knock Martinez out of the game. Washington's 5-9 hitters had six hits, including two homers and three RBIs. Even Chris Heisey came off the bench and added a pinch-hit home run.
"For the guys that don't get in there every day to come out and contribute and help us get a win, that's what it takes to win games in this league," Robinson said. "It's a long season, and it's going to have to come from somewhere other than the same guys every day. It's gotta come from different sources. So today, that was an example of that."
"That tells me that somebody's in trouble. Somebody's in trouble, because Bryce isn't going hitless for too long a period of time" -- Nationals manager Dusty Baker on Harper going 0-for-11 this series
"It just doesn't matter. We have to play well against everybody. I don't think you put more weight on one over the other. We are just hitting the second month of the season. We have a long way to go. We've seen many positives, even against some of the better teams. We just have to keep playing the game." -- Matheny, on the Cardinals' 1-8 record against teams currently above .500.
• Peralta fields grounders for first time since surgery
UPON FURTHER REVIEW
A crew chief review helped the Cardinals avoid being shut out for the third time this season. Initially awarded a double on a ball that bounced off the concrete border above the left-center-field wall with two out in the ninth, Brandon Moss was given the green light to finish circling the bases after a one-minute, 12-second review showed it had cleared the wall. The home run was Moss' team-leading sixth.
Nationals: The Nationals continue their three-city, 10-game road trip in Kansas City with a series with the Royals starting Monday at 8:15 p.m. ET. Left-hander Gio Gonzalez will take the mound to try and continue his fast start to the year. He owns a 1.42 ERA through his first four starts.
Cardinals: St. Louis will host the Phillies for a four-game series beginning on Monday with a 7:15 p.m. CT start by Adam Wainwright. Helped by his own bases-clearing triple, Wainwright picked up his first win of the year in his 5 1/3-inning start against Arizona last week.
Watch every out-of-market regular season game live on MLB.TV.
Jenifer Langosch has covered the Cardinals for MLB.com since 2012, and previously covered the Pirates from 2007-11. Read her blog, By Gosh, It's Langosch, follow her on Twitter @LangoschMLB, like her Facebook page Jenifer Langosch for Cardinals.com and listen to her podcast.
Jamal Collier covers the Nationals for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @jamalcollier.