While Adam Wainwright is the undisputed No. 1 starter for the St. Louis Cardinals, the Washington Nationals have a couple of pitchers that could hold that title. And it's the least heralded pitcher in their rotation that has been pitching like an ace.
Wainwright looks to shake his recent struggles in the nation's capital when he takes the ball Tuesday night against the surprising Ross Detwiler .
Returning to the site of their stunning comeback in Game 5 of last season's NL division series, the Cardinals (11-8) won Monday's opener 3-2. Allen Craig had a two-run double in the third inning and Yadier Molina drove in the go-ahead run in the sixth for St. Louis, which has alternated wins and losses over its last nine games.
Rookie Shelby Miller put together another impressive outing and now owns a 2.16 ERA, but Wainwright (3-1, 2.48 ERA) is still considered the leader of the rotation.
Wainwright is the only pitcher since at least 1921 that has struck out 25 or more without walking a batter through the first four starts of a season. His 29 innings without a walk to start the season is the third-longest streak in franchise history.
After tossing a four-hitter against Milwaukee on April 13, the right-hander gave up three runs in seven innings of Thursday's 4-3 win over Philadelphia. He struck out four, bringing his season total to 28.
Detwiler (1-0, 0.90) has also done a good job of minimizing walks - issuing three in 20 innings - as well as runs.
The No. 5 starter for a talented rotation led by Stephen Strasburg , Gio Gonzalez and Jordan Zimmermann , Detwiler has given up one run in each of his first three starts and finally got his first win Wednesday, when he went seven innings against Miami. He left his first two starts with Washington (10-9) ahead 5-1 and 4-1.
"He's definitely not (a typical fifth starter)," manager Davey Johnson told the Nationals' official website. "He's got great stuff and he locates it well. He uses both sides of the plate as good as anybody I've seen. He's still in the learning stages. But he's awfully good just right where he's at."
The left-hander was also pretty good against the Cardinals in Game 4 of the NLDS, allowing one run over six innings as Washington went on to win 2-1.
Wainwright was solid in the series opener, allowing a run in 5 2-3 innings, but in Game 5 he gave up six runs before leaving with one out in the third. The Cardinals, however, managed to rally from that 6-0 hole and advance to the NLCS.
Wainwright has a history of disastrous outings in the nation's capital, allowing 16 runs and 22 hits over 10 innings in his last three starts there. That 14.40 ERA is easily his worst at any ballpark since 2010.
Werth, however, is 3 for 18 in his last five games and Harper has gone hitless six times in his last eight contests.
Washington has lost seven of 10, averaging 3.3 runs in that span.
"We're just in a rut," first baseman Adam LaRoche said. "When it rains, it pours."
St. Louis' Carlos Beltran had a pair of singles in the opener and is 9 for 20 with three home runs in his last five games. He homered for his only hit in three at-bats against Detwiler last year.
|St. Louis Cardinals|
|March 24, 2013||Rafael Furcal||15-Day DL||Right elbow surgery - out for season|
|March 23, 2013||David Freese||15-Day DL||Strained lower back|
|March 23, 2013||David Freese||15-Day DL||Strained lower back|
|March 22, 2013||Jason Motte||15-Day DL||Strained right elbow|
|March 07, 2013||Rafael Furcal||Day-to-Day||Right elbow surgery - out for season|
|February 22, 2013||Chris Carpenter||60-Day DL||Nerve irritation, right shoulder|
|April 18, 2013||Ryan Zimmerman||15-Day DL||Strained left hamstring|
|April 16, 2013||Bryce Harper||Day-to-Day||Flu-like symptoms|
|April 16, 2013||Denard Span||Day-to-Day||Flu-like symptoms|
|April 14, 2013||Wilson Ramos||15-Day DL||Strained left hamstring|
|March 22, 2013||Christian Garcia||15-Day DL||Strained right forearm tendon|
WASHINGTON (AP) -- So Adam Wainwright finally walked a batter. Knew he would, of course.
It was one of the few blemishes for the St. Louis Cardinals right-hander Tuesday night.
After starting the season by throwing 34 2-3 innings without issuing a free pass, Wainwright walked Washington's Bryce Harper to load the bases in the sixth, then followed up by striking out cleanup hitter Adam LaRoche to get out of the jam. All in all, Wainwright extended his sterling start to 2013 - and Washington's mediocre one - by coming within two outs of his second shutout, leading the Cardinals past the Nationals 2-0.
"I wasn't going to go the whole season without walking somebody," Wainwright said. "I wanted the game to dictate when that was OK to do, and right there I felt like pitching him tough - even though I'm loading the bases for a tough hitter, LaRoche - Bryce Harper , he can hurt you in a lot of different ways."
Manager Mike Matheny joked about Wainwright's long stretch without throwing four balls to a batter, calling it a "walk-less streak," then asking: "Is there such a word, a `walk-less' streak?"
On a more serious note, Matheny - a former catcher - said: "The one walk was one of my favorite things. It was smart pitching."
Wainwright (4-1) lowered his ERA to 1.93 by going 8 1-3 scoreless innings, allowing only five hits and striking out nine, before Edward Mujica got the final two outs for his third save.
"I haven't done that too many times, where I go out for the ninth and don't finish it," Wainwright said.
But Matheny did come out to yank the righty after Wainwright gave up Harper's leadoff double, then struck out his buddy LaRoche for the fourth time.
"There's nothing easy about pulling him out right there. I told him I didn't appreciate that look he gave me," Matheny said with a chuckle about his pitcher. "I was just kidding; I didn't even see him look, for the record."
Jayson Werth , LaRoche, Ian Desmond , Anthony Rendon and Danny Espinosa - Washington's 2-4-5-6-7 hitters - went a combined 0 for 18.
Wainwright needed all of four pitches to record three outs in the fifth inning, as Desmond, Rendon and Espinosa all grounded out. That gave Wainwright 13 consecutive outs.
And he took only five pitches to get through the seventh against that same trio.
"He was just working the corners well. Cutter. Sinker. Both sides of the plate. His curveball, he was throwing for a strike. ... It's a big, big looping curveball," Espinosa said. "He's got his stuff going right now."
Allen Craig and Carlos Beltran drove in runs in the fourth off Nationals lefty Ross Detwiler (1-1), who gave up eight hits across six innings.
Detwiler benefited from four double plays over the first five innings, including a nifty one started by second baseman Espinosa with a backhanded flip from his glove to shortstop Desmond. In the only early inning without a double play, the fourth, the Cardinals got to Detwiler with four consecutive opposite-field hits by right-handed batters that produced the two runs.
The Nationals, who led the majors with 98 wins last season and were a popular pick to do well in 2013, lost for the eighth time in their past 11 games to fall to 10-10.
"I'm usually pretty patient, but I'm getting at my rope's end," manager Davey Johnson said. "The effort's there, but we're just not getting it done. We've got the players to get it done. We're just not getting it done. It's time to get a little mad."
Johnson promised lineup changes for Wednesday's series finale.
General manager Mike Rizzo, meanwhile, said: "I'm going to stick with our team. We're going to win a lot of games this year. ... I like our team. I wouldn't trade our team for any team in baseball right now."
Washington dropped its fifth consecutive home game, and there even were scattered chants of "Let's go, Cardinals!" among the announced crowd of 29,986.
Before the game, Johnson spoke about some of his hitters and pitchers "trying to do too much," perhaps as a result of the expectations the club faced entering the season.
"Maybe from everybody picking us as a candidate to win our division," Johnson said, "everybody's trying to be a little better than they need to be."
Of course, it was Johnson who came up with the phrase "World Series or bust" to describe what the Nationals have said will be his final season as their manager.
Notes: Wainwright threw a four-hit shutout against Milwaukee on April 13. ... Matheny said 1B Matt Adams , who sat out a second game with a sore muscle on his right side, is working with trainers to rehab the injury and the expectation is that he won't need to go on the DL. ... Cardinals CF Jon Jay was out of the starting lineup, with Shane Robinson playing center and batting leadoff. Jay is hitting .197 with a .238 on-base percentage. "No question, he's searching for a few things on the offensive side," Matheny said. ... On Wednesday, Nationals RHP Stephen Strasburg (1-3, 2.96 ERA) will face Cardinals LHP Jaime Garcia (1-1, 3.22 ERA).
Follow Howard Fendrich on Twitter at http://twitter.com/HowardFendrich