Washington has scored just one run in its last two games, both losses, and hasn't scored a run in 14 innings. With the loss, the Nationals slide back into a first-place tie with the Braves in the National League East. The Marlins are one game back.
The lack of offense spoiled another dominant performance from Jordan Zimmermann, who gave up just the one run on three hits while picking up his second complete game of the season. He was done in by a solo homer from Matt Adams in the second inning.
"I had a good fastball again tonight, down in the zone, and the curveball and sliders were there when I wanted them," Zimmermann said. "Really it was one mistake, on a changeup that was down the middle, and he made me pay."
"He's been really good," Washington manager Matt Williams said of Zimmermann. "He hung a changeup to Adams and didn't get that pitch where he wanted to get it. Other than that, he induced some double plays and we played good defense behind him. We just didn't scratch one across tonight, but that's a testament to how their guy pitched."
Zimmermann set a team record for fewest pitches in a complete game with 76, bettering the mark of 85 he set last year.
"I was throwing a lot of strikes, and they knew that, and they were coming up hacking," Zimmermann said. "I was locating the fastball and I got a lot of ground balls tonight, and those guys behind me played great defense and turned a couple of double plays, which was great."
But Cardinals starter Lance Lynn was just a little better. Lynn retired the first 16 batters he faced, striking out five during that span. He finished with eight K's while holding the Nationals scoreless on three hits over eight innings. St. Louis closer Trevor Rosenthal worked the ninth to complete the shutout.
The pitching made for an extremely quick game time of two hours, three minutes.
The Nationals' best chance to break through in the early going came when Jayson Werth sent a ground ball deep into the hole at short. Jhonny Peralta went down on his knees to snare the hard-hit ball and was able to throw out Werth at first to end the fourth.
Washington finally broke up Lynn's perfect game with one out in the sixth on a Jose Lobaton single to left. Lobaton advanced to second on the play when Matt Holliday mishandled the ball, but Lynn stranded him there after a Zimmermann popout and Denard Span flyout.
"In the past against us, he's struggled with command a little bit, and I don't know that he walked anybody today," Washington first baseman Adam LaRoche said. "He had it. He had it with two or three different pitches today, spotting in and out. I think you look back, we were basically 1-2 every at-bat. It seemed like we were trying to fight back. They were more defensive at-bats than we typically have."
Werth was the only other Nationals player to get a hit when he singled with one out in the seventh. But Werth was erased when LaRoche hit into an infield-shift-aided 5-3 double play.
"I'm sure everybody in here, offensively, will go up and say something to him [Zimmermann] at some point," LaRoche said. "He understands it, though. ... You need to push a run or two across and you can't do it, and then a guy goes out and does what he did. It's frustrating, but it happens."
Adams made himself feel back at home by blasting his fourth home run of the year in the second to give the Cardinals a 1-0 lead. The 419-foot shot to right-center came in Adams' first plate appearance since going on the disabled list May 31 with a strained calf.
The run was the first given up by Zimmermann in 19 innings. He fell to 5-3.
"He threw the ball extremely well," Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said of Zimmermann. "We've had a couple good games where we come out against Zimmermann and he's going to be greedy, he's not going to give us much. Good fastball and we know it, and it's one of those that you have trouble catching up with. He was another guy that effectively used his offspeed pitches and made really good pitches once we started getting something going for the double plays."
Lynn improved to 7-4. He threw 111 pitches over eight innings and 73 of those were strikes. Lynn gave up just the two hits and struck out eight.
"Just pinpoint control with his fastball," Williams said of Lynn. "He threw a lot of them that came back to the plate, started off the plate and came back to the outside corner. He threw really well. We hit some balls hard, but the difference tonight was one swing and they got us."