Apr 19, 2014; Washington, DC, USA; St. Louis Cardinals center fielder Jon Jay (19) is out at second base as Washington Nationals second baseman Danny Espinosa (8) starts the double play in the third inning at Nationals Park. Mandatory Credit: Joy R. Absalon-USA TODAY Sports

Cardinals Slide Past Nationals 4-3

Nationals manager Matt Williams probably wonders when the sure-handed club he inherited this offseason will take the field.  It didn’t happen Saturday afternoon, and the Nationals fell to the visiting Cardinals 4-3.

Jordan Zimmerman (1-1) provided the second strong outing by a Nats starter, not exactly a given this season, but an error and a misplayed ball in the second resulted in three Cardinals runs, a lead Lance Lynn (4-0) and the Cardinals bullpen never relinquished.

After Zimmerman walked Cardinals right fielder Allen Craig, a Jhonny Peralta grounder to third baseman Anthony Rendon looked like a sure double-play.  Rendon’s throw to second pulled Danny Espinoza off the bag, giving the Cards an extra out.  Two batters later, with runners at second and third, Williams opted to pitch to backup catcher Tony Cruz instead of issue the walk and pitch to Lynn.  Cruz singled, plating two.  Jayson Werth then misplayed Lynn’s double down the right field line, scoring Cruz.  Though Werth’s wasn’t technically an error, it was another misplay in a season full of them.

Espinosa gave the Nats a fighting chance, hitting his first home run of the season in the fifth.  Rendon made the score 4-2 with an RBI double in the eighth, which was one of the few times the Nats hit with runners on.  For the game, they stranded nine.  Kevin Frandsen grounded out against closer Trevor Rosenthal in the ninth to score the Nats third run, but Werth couldn’t provide any more late game heroics, striking out to end the game.

Zimmerman impressed again, providing a second straight quality start for him and for the Nats by a starter.  On Friday, Gio Gonzalez threw seven innings of four hit ball.  Zimmerman also threw seven innings, allowing seven hits and striking out six.  Of his four runs, only one of them was earned.

Considered an area of strength this year, Nationals starters have been inconsistent at best, forcing Williams to use his bullpen extensively this year.  Both Zimmerman and Gonzalez pitching seven in back to back games allows the relievers a chance to catch a breath.

Coming into the game, the Nats relievers had thrown the fifth most innings in the Major Leagues, which is particularly troubling since they’ve played only two extra innings games (both ended in the 10th) and one of the teams ahead of them, the Diamondbacks, had played two extra games.  Shockingly, Tyler Clippard did not make an appearance in this game.  Search parties were not sent out for the missing reliever.

One question from today’s game is Frandsen replacing Bryce Harper in the top of the seventh.  Harper has been struggling with a tight quadriceps, but after the game Williams explained Harper’s replacement being due to Harper failing to run out a ground out in the sixth.

Denard Span made his return today after spending time on the disabled list with a concussion.  He finished the game 2-for-5.  Rendon also collected two hits, going 2-for-4 with a double and a RBI.

The Nationals are now 1-8 in their last nine against the Cardinals, dating back to last year.

The Nationals send Stephen Strasburg (1-2) to the mound tomorrow afternoon to try and even the series 2-2.  In his last start Strasburg was hit hard by the Marlins, allowing eight hits and six earned in four innings.  The Cardinals counter with Shelby Miller (1-2).

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