Cardinals' struggles continue in loss to Nationals

Thursday, August 30, 2012 | 11:44 p.m. CDT; updated 1:04 a.m. CDT, Friday, August 31, 2012
Cardinals shortstop Rafael Furcal, left, leaves the game with trainer Greg Hauck, and manager Mike Matheny during the sixth inning Thursday against the Washington Nationals. Furcal was diagnosed with a strained right elbow and will have an MRI on Friday.

WASHINGTON — Edwin Jackson had the St. Louis Cardinals swinging at pitches in the dirt, so often that catcher Jesus Flores ended up with three assists throwing the ball to first after strikeouts.

Jackson fanned 10 in eight stellar innings Thursday night as the Washington Nationals padded their NL East lead with an 8-1 win over the punchless Cardinals.

"That was a gem," Washington manager Davey Johnson said. "He had electric stuff."

Bryce Harper hit his third home run in two games, and Jayson Werth hit a home run for the first time since May for the Nationals, who opened an 11-game homestand with an overwhelming performance against a wild-card contender that failed to score an earned run for the third straight game.

The news was worse for the Cardinals afterward, when shortstop Rafael Furcal was concerned that he might have suffered a season-ending injury while making a pair of throws in the sixth inning.

"It's bad," said Furcal, who was diagnosed with a strained right elbow and will have an MRI on Friday.

The victory moved the Nationals 5½ games ahead of the idle Atlanta Braves. Washington's recent five-game losing streak has tightened the race again, but Johnson's team has come out of the funk with 16 runs in two games, led by the top-of-the-order tandem of Werth and Harper.

A day after his first two-homer game, Harper hit a drive so hard that it short-hopped the back wall of the Nationals bullpen and bounced all the way back over the right-field fence. It was a two-run shot in the first inning, and the teenager followed by hitting the ball even farther in the third — only to have it caught on the warning track near the 402-foot mark in straightaway center field. Some in the crowd gave him a standing ovation as he returned to the dugout.

Harper added an RBI single in the sixth, further evidence that he's fully emerged from a post All-Star game slump. Furthermore, he played all nine innings — unlike the night before, when he was ejected for throwing his helmet.

"Bryce is a totally different animal," Werth said. "He's a special player. He's 19. It's unbelievable. When I was 19, I don't know if I would have been ready for all this. I'm just glad he stayed in the game tonight."

As for Werth, he led off three innings and scored each time. He walked and singled, then hit his first homer since returning Aug. 2 from a long stint on the disabled list with a broken wrist. He has four home runs on the season and raised his average to .305.

"I was swinging the bat good. I just haven't hit any balls that go over the fence," Werth said. "But it was nice to do that. It's a lot easier when you don't have to sprint around the bases."

The way Jackson (8-9) was pitching, the Nationals didn't need all that offense. Once Flores realized the Cardinals hitters were fishing for the slider, he kept calling it — even if it meant adding another 2-3 putout to the scorebook.

"It definitely lets you know either they're trying to get you, or either they're just not seeing that pitch that well," Jackson said. "Either way, you just want to try to continue to throw it and keep it out of the zone if they swing."

Jaime Garcia (3-6) allowed six runs over 5 1/3 innings for the Cardinals, who streak of 28 scoreless innings came to an end when Nationals third baseman Ryan Zimmerman launched a throw well over the first baseman's head in the eighth inning, allowing a runner to score from second on the error.

St. Louis, now with a half-game lead in the race for the NL's second wild-card spot, was shut out in back-to-back games by Pittsburgh before arriving in Washington. The Cardinals last went three consecutive games without scoring an earned run in 1992.

"Nothing we can put our finger on," Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said. "No explanation at this point."

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