WASHINGTON — One of these days, Michael Wacha might be the guy who forces the other team's starting pitcher to excel.
For now, the St. Louis Cardinals right-hander is having a delightful time trying to outdo the opposing team's ace.
Wacha got the best of Max Scherzer, Matt Adams singled in the tiebreaking run in the sixth inning and the Cardinals beat the Washington Nationals 4-1 Thursday for their fourth straight series win.
In his previous two starts, Wacha outpitched Cincinnati star Johnny Cueto. This time, he was better than Scherzer — the 2013 Cy Young winner who came in with a sparkling 0.83 ERA.
"You know you're going to have to go out there and try to match zeros against those guys," Wacha said.
He did better than that.
Wacha (3-0) allowed one run and five hits in seven innings while lowering his ERA to 1.33. He walked two and struck out six, including Jose Lobaton three times.
"He was great," manager Mike Matheny said. "I think he's doing a nice job of not being distracted by who he's facing."
Scherzer (1-2) also went seven innings, giving up two runs and six hits. It was the first time in his four starts with Washington that he surrendered more than one earned run.
Scherzer hurt his wrist in the fifth inning while at the plate, but he dismissed the injury as a minor inconvenience.
"I haven't batted too much and I jammed it a little bit," the right-hander said. "I look forward to going out there and pitching my next start."
Nationals first baseman Ryan Zimmerman was slow on the bases, a shortcoming that manager Matt Williams suspected was a minor case of plantar fasciitis.
"He has a little pain in the bottom of his foot," Williams said. "Been bothering him for a while. Pretty soon we're going to have to give him a break and sit him down."
Matt Carpenter had two hits and scored a run for the Cardinals, who have won seven of eight. St. Louis took two of three from the Nationals in a matchup of 2014 division champions and remained unbeaten in series play this year (4-0-1).
Scherzer allowed the first two batters to reach base, then retired 16 of 17 before Jason Heyward singled with two outs in the sixth. The right-hander hit Matt Holliday with a pitch before Adams delivered a single to left for a 2-1 lead.
St. Louis added two runs in the eighth.
Jordan Walden got three outs in the bottom of the inning for the Cardinals and Trevor Rosenthal pitched a perfect ninth for his sixth save.
Facing the Cardinals for the first time since 2009, Scherzer, a St. Louis native, got off to a wobbly start. Carpenter lined the first pitch of the game into center field for a double, moved up on a single by Heyward and scored on a wild pitch.
In the Nationals fifth, Danny Espinosa led off with a double and Scherzer reached when a replay determined that Adams took his foot off first base before taking a throw. Denard Span followed with an RBI single.
With runners on the corners, Wacha retired Ian Desmond on a popup, struck out Bryce Harper and got Zimmerman to ground into a fielder's choice.
HAVE A SEAT
Cardinals: C Yadier Molina was out of the starting lineup for the first time this season, despite a seven-game stretch in which he had 12 hits and six RBIs. "We had (the non-start) on the calendar a while back," Matheny said.
Nationals: OF Jayson Werth didn't play after going 4 for 19 in his previous five games. The slugger is batting .167 with no homers and two RBIs.
Cardinals: OF Peter Bourjos is expected to return from paternity leave on Friday in Milwaukee.
Nationals: OF Anthony Rendon (left knee sprain) worked out the squad before the game and will start a rehabilitation assignment Friday with Double-A Harrisburg.
Cardinals: RHP Carlos Martinez (1-0, 2.08 ERA) gets his third start of the season Friday night in the opener of a three-game set against the Brewers.
Nationals: Washington sends Jordan Zimmermann and his 6.14 ERA to the mound vs. the Marlins to launch a 10-game road trip that goes through Miami, Atlanta and New York.
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