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Mike Leake out duels Max Scherzer, Cardinals beat Nationals 6-1

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USA TODAY Sports

Mike Leake out duels Max Scherzer, Cardinals beat Nationals 6-1

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Going up against the 2016 NL Cy Young winner and facing the prospect of stumbling to their worst start in 20 years, the St. Louis Cardinals played their best game of the young season.

Mike Leake outpitched Max Scherzer, Stephen Piscotty homered and had five RBIs, and the Cardinals beat the Washington Nationals 6-1 on Wednesday to avoid a three-game sweep.

After yielding 22 runs in the first two games of the series, St. Louis dodged its first 2-7 start since 1997.

"Leake did a tremendous job on the mound and we played good defense," Piscotty said. "It was a good win, and we needed it."

Leake (1-1) gave up four hits, struck out seven and walked none over seven shutout innings. The right-hander allowed hits to the first two batters, then picked off a runner before getting 19 straight outs. The streak ended when Daniel Murphy singled with two outs in the seventh.

By that time, St. Louis had taken a 3-0 lead against Scherzer, who yielded only one earned run. He did, however, throw three wild pitches -- two in the third inning -- after tossing only two all last year while going 20-7.

Scherzer (1-1) allowed three runs, four hits and two walks in six innings. He struck out 10, the 50th time in his career he reached double figures in strikeouts.

"At the end of the day, even when you get punched in the face, you still do some things well," Scherzer said. "I was able to get a lot of swings and misses and was able to get my cut slider into lefties really well.

"Other times, I pitched ineffectively. This doesn't feel great, but I'm in a situation where I'm ready to go forward with my next start and pitch well."

With Leake leading the way, the Cardinals rebounded from a three-game skid in which they were outscored 30-9.

"It's ideal," Leake said of his performance. "It's what you ask for from a starting pitcher after you've been beat down for a couple games."

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Leake permitted only two runners past first base and reduced his ERA to 0.60.

"What a great day -- seven shutout innings against this team," manager Mike Matheny said.

After Leake was pulled, Adam Eaton hit an RBI single in the eighth inning and Washington put runners at the corners with two outs before Brett Cecil got Bryce Harper to line out to third.

Piscotty's drive in the ninth ended any remaining suspense. He also had run-scoring singles in the first and fifth innings in tying his career high for RBIs.

St. Louis used a walk and a double by Piscotty to go up 1-0 in the first inning.

In the bottom half, Eaton doubled and took third on a single by Anthony Rendon. Not long after that, a replay requested by the Cardinals revealed that Leake picked off Rendon.

"That's a game changer," Matheny said.

Nationals manager Dusty Baker agreed, noting, "We had him on the ropes and then the pickoff."

Leake subsequently struck out Harper and retired Murphy on a comebacker.

St. Louis took advantage of an error by shortstop Wilmer Difo to score two unearned runs in the fifth.

PERALTA STRUGGLES

Matheny is exercising patience while waiting for three-time All-Star Jhonny Peralta to break a hitting slump.

Peralta is 3 for 20 with eight strikeouts and no walks.

"He's run against good guys making good pitches," said Matheny, who sat Peralta on Wednesday. "We have to let him run the course."

TRAINER'S ROOM

Cardinals: 1B Matt Carpenter returned to the starting lineup after back tightness limited him to a pinch-hitting role on Tuesday.

Nationals: Placed INF Stephen Drew on the 10-day DL with a strained right hamstring. The injury occurred Tuesday night. He's been replaced on the roster by INF Grant Green.

UP NEXT

Cardinals: The team intended to travel by train to New York on Wednesday night, take Thursday off and start a three-game series at Yankee Stadium on Friday night.

Nationals: Following an off day Thursday, Washington opens a three-game series against the visiting Philadelphia Phillies on Friday.

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Mike Rizzo details the rehabilitation process for Bryce Harper to return for Nationals

Mike Rizzo details the rehabilitation process for Bryce Harper to return for Nationals

When Bryce Harper went down Saturday night during the Nationals' game against the San Francisco Giants, everyone in D.C. stopped breathing for a moment. This was true even for Nats GM Mike Rizzo.

"We've all felt it," Rizzo said. "You get that little pit in your stomach and it's the same feeling I had when [Wilson] Ramos went out."

RELATED: HOW JUDGE COULD HELP NATS KEEP HARPER IN WASHINGTON

The Nats' star right fielder was running out a ground ball to first base when his left leg hit a slippery base, causing his knee to hyperextend. Harper immediately went down and grabbed his knee in agony. He eventually had to be helped off the field.

The team has been plagued with injuries this season, from the bullpen to outfielders.

After the initial shock of seeing one of his best players go down with what could have been a season-ending injury, Rizzo told the Sports Junkies he went in 'GM mode.'

"You immediately go to GM mode. We immediately called our farm director, Doug Harris, and made arrangements to get Michael Taylor on a plane. Pull him out of the game in double A, get him on a plane and bring him here because we knew that we needed a player that next day. You know, you gotta change gears quick."

"Then I went down to see Harp in the clubhouse. When I saw him walking up the stairs from the dugout to the clubhouse, I was a little bit relieved. You never know with those injuries. Until you get the MRIs, until you see maybe a day or two later what transpired in there, you have to be cautiously optimistic, I guess that it wasn't an [Adam] Eaton type of thing where you knew immediately that he was gone for the season."

While everyone was waiting to see the severity of Harper's injury, Mike Rizzo and his team were making a game plan.

"You go into your evaluation mode. You look at the depth of your roster. What's next? You get the cabinet together, we were all in the GM box watching the game, so we were all together and kind of put our heads together to try to come up with a plan.

"If it's a light injury, if it's a year-ending injury, what do we do? What are the plans? And you know, you put plans together. If I'm not mistaken it was like the first inning or second inning or something like that. It was early in the game, so we had three hours to lament over it and think about what we're trying to do and put a game plan together kind of on the fly. We literally had Michael Taylor flying into D.C. later that evening so we kind of had to turn things around pretty quickly."

Now that the GM knows Harper's injury is a significant bone bruise, what steps does the team take to get him back on the diamond as soon as possible?

"If I had a time frame for you, I would give it to you. But there's no sense of putting on a time frame because the injury, the bone bruise, has to heal before he can do any type of rehab, stimulated rehab, baseball activities. He's not doing anything below the waist.

"He's doing his workout programs. He's doing all his weight work, all his cardio, all the things he has to do above the waist. But, we don't want him weight-bearing impacting with running and hitting and spinning, you know when you stick a swing and that type of thing, until he feels much much better and he's asymptomatic with the pain in his knee."

Rizzo said Harper will eventually progress to an AlterG treadmill, an anti-gravity treadmill that speeds up the rehabilitation process by supporting as much or as little body weight as needed.

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Howie Kendrick hits two homeruns for Nationals against former team

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Howie Kendrick hits two homeruns for Nationals against former team

WASHINGTON -- Gio Gonzalez allowed two hits in six scoreless innings, Howie Kendrick hit two solo home runs and the Washington Nationals snapped the Los Angeles Angels' winning streak at six with a 3-1 victory Tuesday night.

Gonzalez (11-5) struck out four and issued three walks in lowering his home ERA to 1.79, now the best in baseball. The left-hander, who was three outs from a no-hitter July 31 at Miami, allowed his first hit two hits into the fifth against the Angels.

Los Angeles, which had climbed into an AL wild-card spot during its streak, lost for the first time since Aug. 7. Tyler Skaggs (1-3) allowed the two home runs to Kendrick and five other hits while striking out six in five innings.

Kendrick has homered in three of his past four at-bats after hitting a walk-off grand slam in the 11th inning Sunday night against San Francisco.

Playing their third game since Bryce Harper went on the 10-day disabled list with a bone bruise in his left knee, the Nationals got an insurance run in the sixth on a wild pitch by Bud Norris and an error on Angels first baseman Albert Pujols. That provided some extra breathing room when Cliff Pennington hit a home run in the eighth, the first run Brandon Kintzler has allowed since being traded to Washington from Minnesota.

With Ryan Madson's availability in question after dealing with a blister Sunday, the Nationals went with Matt Albers in the seventh, Kintzler in the eighth and Sean Doolittle in the ninth. Doolittle picked up his 12th save of the season and his ninth with Washington.