Wainwright sharp as Cards blank Nats


This is not what revenge looks like.

Seeking to put the ghosts of last year’s Division Series loss to the St. Louis Cardinals behind them, the Washington Nationals are instead staring an April sweep in the face, as Adam Wainwright and Edward Mujica combined on a five-hit shutout to power the Cardinals to a 2-0 win at Nationals Park Tuesday.

Nine more strikeouts from the batting order, four more runners left in scoring position, another strong, wasted start by Ross Detwiler — it has been a familiar refrain for the Nationals thus far in the early going of 2013, the result of which is a 10-10 record that feels much worse than it is. Perhaps the most telling reaction came from Nationals manager Davey Johnson in his post-game remarks.

“I’m usually pretty patient, but I’m getting to my rope’s end,” Johnson said, as reported by CSN’s Mark Zuckerman. “The effort’s there, but we’re just not getting it done. We’ve got the players who can get it done, we’re just not getting it done. It’s time to get a little mad.”

Whether or not April is too soon to be getting mad is a moot point. It’s clear that the Nationals are not comfortable right now, in any phase of their game, and the results are showing. On Tuesday night, Wainwright was both the trigger for and the benefactor of the Nationals woes.

Roger Bernadina makes the face most Nationals fans are wearing these days after a sixth-inning strikeout leaves him 0-for-16 on the season. (Image: Evan Habeeb, USA Today)

It was Wainwright on the hill for the Cardinals in Game 5 of last season’s playoff series between the clubs — the veteran left in the third inning with the Nats holding a 6-0 lead. Tuesday’s outing could not have been more disparate, as Wainwright pitched into the ninth inning with remarkable efficiency, twice throwing fewer than six pitches in an inning to retire the over-eager Nationals hitters. He did issue his first walk of the season, a subtle pitch-around to Bryce Harper in the sixth inning that loaded the bases, but the next batter, Adam LaRoche, remained mired in a deep funk, fanning for one of his four strikeouts on the night. LaRoche is now 0-for his last 10, with seven whiffs, and may find himself seated on Wednesday with the Nationals playing a day game against a left-handed pitcher.

It was Harper who gave the Nationals hope in the ninth inning, leading off with a double for his second hit of the game. But after Wainwright punched out LaRoche again, Mujica came on to get Ian Desmond and pinch-hitter Chad Tracy, stranding Harper exactly where he had been all inning.

Detwiler, starting for the Nationals on the mound, fell to 1-1 in his least effective start of the year — but even that was pretty solid, which only speaks for how well the left-hander has thrown this season. Detwiler worked his way in and out of trouble throughout the early innings, helped immensely by four double plays turned by the Nats infield. The only early inning without a double play, the fourth, was the only time the Cardinals could break through.

Detwiler surrendered four straight hits to start the fourth — a single to Shane Robinson, an RBI double by Allen Craig, a single by Matt Holliday and an RBI single by Carlos Beltran. Even though Detwiler escaped the rest of the inning unscathed, it was clear at that point, given both Wainwright’s sharpness and Washington’s struggles, that the Cardinals would have to do something very generous to give this game away.

Now, the Nats are facing back-to-back home sweeps, after the Atlanta Braves did the honor last weekend. Washington will send Stephen Strasburg (1-3, 2.96 ERA) to the mound against the Cardinals and Jaime Garcia (1-1, 3.22) in a 1:05 PM get-away day matinee.