Cards’ offense can’t pick up Leake in 2-1 loss to Nationals

Aledmys Diaz created the Cardinals' only run with a solo homer in Thursday's 2-1 loss to the Nationals.

Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP

WASHINGTON — For the fourth straight start, Mike Leake was extremely effective on the mound.

This time, though, the Cardinals right-hander didn’t get a win for his effort.

Joe Ross and two relievers limited St. Louis to six hits, and the Washington Nationals got solo homers from Bryce Harper and Danny Espinosa in a 2-1 victory Thursday night.

The Cardinals led 1-0 in the sixth before Harper ended a 4-for-33 skid with a no-doubt-about-it shot into the upper deck, far beyond the wall in right field. It was his 12th homer of the season, the first since May 13.

The light-hitting Espinosa snapped the tie in the seventh with a drive to right.

Both homers came off Leake (3-4), who won his previous three starts while allowing only two runs over 21 innings.

"Hanging changeup and a hanging slider, right where hitters want the ball," Leake said. "If you take those back, it’s a zero-run ballgame."

Harper was only too happy to take advantage of a rare mistake by Leake, who allowed two runs and seven hits over seven innings.

"It felt good to get one," Harper said. "It was the kind of pitch I could handle and do some damage."

Ross (4-4) gave up one run and six hits over seven innings. He had lost four straight decisions since beating the Cardinals in St. Louis on April 30.

"He was pretty stingy giving up hits," Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said.

Felipe Rivero worked the eighth, and Jonathan Papelbon got three straight outs for his 13th save.

Aledmys Diaz homered for St. Louis, 0-4 against Washington this season.

"A couple solo home runs shouldn’t be enough to do that to us," Matheny said, "but we just had trouble doing anything offensively."

The Cardinals were without their top run producer, Matt Carpenter, who was placed on the paternity list earlier Thursday. He leads St. Louis with nine homers and 32 RBIs.

Washington, in turn, began the game with torrid-hitting Daniel Murphy on the bench. He was given the day off by manager Dusty Baker, who said, "One of their big bats is out of the lineup, so they offset. It worked out perfectly."

The Nationals got runners on second and third with two outs in the second before Espinosa grounded out.

Diaz led off the fourth with his seventh home run, a drive to left into the St. Louis bullpen.

But the lead wouldn’t stand up.

"I’ve been missing off the plate when I’ve been missing, and unfortunately those two did miss right where you don’t want it," Leake lamented. "I don’t know, next time, just don’t miss there again."

I GOT IT

One play before Espinosa’s home run, Stephen Drew hit a popup that was converged upon by third baseman Greg Garcia and Diaz, the shortstop, both of whom had their gloves raised to make the catch. The players collided and the ball popped out of Garcia’s glove — right into the mitt of catcher Yadier Molina, who was trailing the play.

TRAINER’S ROOM

Cardinals: 1B Matt Adams left in the fifth inning with mid-back stiffness. He will be re-examined Friday. … INF Jhonny Peralta will report to Double-A Springfield on Friday after going 3 for 13 in five rehab games at Single-A Peoria. Peralta was operated on in March to repair an injured ligament in his left thumb. Matheny says, "He’s one guy on the immediate radar to help us."

Nationals: Reliever Matt Belisle (right calf strain) will make a rehab appearance Saturday with Class A Potomac. The 35-year-old tossed a scoreless inning in both his previous outings with Potomac.

UP NEXT

Cardinals: LHP Jaime Garcia (3-4, 3.59 ERA) enters Friday night’s game in bounce-back mode after giving up a total of eight runs and 15 hits in his last two starts.

Nationals: RHP Max Scherzer (5-3, 3.80) is 1-2 lifetime against St. Louis, but he threw seven shutout innings against the Cardinals on May 1.