Adams jump-starts offense — again — as Cards grind out 4-1 win over Nationals

Matt Adams' 399-foot home run into the home bullpen in the seventh inning gave the Cardinals a 2-1 lead.

Chris Lee/AP

ST. LOUIS — Matt Adams did it again.

The Cardinals’ first baseman homered for the second consective game since returning from the disabled list and helped St. Louis beat visiting Washington, 4-1, before a sellout crowd at Busch Stadium.

"That home run was exactly what we were looking for," Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said. "Big hit, big time. A great time for it. But we had some guys put together some good at-bats.

"You look at the two-out RBI by (Matt) Carpenter early on. Shelby (Miller) getting on there was a big at-bat. That was one of those grinding games that you know when you’re hitting against a (Stephen) Strasburg, that’s likely what’s going to happen. You’re going to have to grind. We’ve been in so many of them I think we’re actually starting to understand that mindset — stay in the game, just keep fighting, put your head down, make the plays, take hard at-bats and good things can happen."

Adams’ 399-foot home run into the home bullpen in the seventh inning — his fifth home run of the season — gave the Cardinals (36-32) a 2-1 lead they would not relinquish and jump-started a three-run inning.

The first baseman’s homer in the second inning against Jordan Zimmermann on Friday night was the only run scored in a pitchers’ duel between Lance Lynn and the Nationals’ right-hander.

"I think I’m just waiting out the pitchers and swinging at the balls that are up and staying through them," said Adams, who has hit all five of his homers this season at home.

Adams had just three hits in 15 at-bats during his rehab assignment in Triple-A Memphis before returning to St. Louis on Friday, but it helped him get back on track.

"I went down to Memphis to get my timing back, and my confidence is up and I’m seeing the ball pretty good and just trying to get the barrel to it," Adams said.

Adams, who is now hitting .328 this season, has been a boost to a lineup that has been struggling at times this summer.

"We want all of our guys healthy. A guy that’s hitting like he is, too," Matheny said. "He’s up in the league leaders and he’s done a real nice job. So we’re happy to have him back, but we also thought the guys we had filling in were doing a nice job. But we like Matt in our lineup."

Adams also flashed some leather Saturday, securing the victory and a save for Trevor Rosenthal with an unassisted double play to close out the game.

3 UP

— Shelby Miller. The Texan took a no-decision Saturday but pitched well enough to earn a better fate. He allowed just one run on four hits over 6 2/3 innings, with four walks and a season-high seven strikeouts on 101 pitches (63 strikes). The righty now has a career 0.73 ERA in 24 2/3 innings pitched against Washington.

"I thought Shelby was good," Matheny said. "I’d say obviously in that last inning — I’ll say this just to make him mad — but it looks like he got a little tired. Those are things that they don’t like to hear, so he’ll come back and have something to say about that, for sure. But that was a tough spot when you get down to the bottom of the order and you’ve got an opportunity first and second to get the pitcher, you have to make good pitches right there. Not just throwing balls down the middle. You have to make quality pitches in the zone and it got away from him. Fortunately, Randy (Choate) came in and did a terrific job and got a big out for us."

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Miller admitted that, yeah, he got a little tired in the seventh inning.

"Mechanics started falling apart a little bit as well," he said. "I ended up walking some guys. I was just trying to let them put the ball in play and just kind of got out of the zone a little bit there."

In three starts this month now, the righty has allowed just five runs on 14 hits over 22 2/3 innings.

Asked about the difference in Miller recently, Matheny said it was about the pitcher’s focus more than anything else.

"I think he’s got a better understanding," the manager said. "I think some of the lumps he’s taken earlier this year have taught him how to be a better pitcher, and I think he’s been challenged more this year than maybe he’s ever been challenged in his career. People had a look at him, they’ve seen him and they’ve got a pretty good idea how he goes about it, and now he’s got to make the adjustments and then the consistency that goes with it. But I think more than anything else it’s his mental approach. I’ve seen a focus from him that we haven’t necessarily seen before. Toronto was the best display we’ve ever seen of it. Today was another good one."


— Choate’s one pitch. Matheny turned to the veteran lefty in a tough spot with the bases loaded and two outs in the top of the seventh inning and Choate came through. He tossed an 85-mph sinker that Denard Span grounded to second baseman Mark Ellis for an inning-ending forceout at second. Lefties are now hitting .121 against Choate, with four hits in 33 at-bats this season.

— Cardinals’ seventh inning. After Choate helped St. Louis escape the bases-loaded threat in the top of the inning, the Birds’ bats went to work in the bottom of the frame. Adams led off with the home run to right, but then the Cardinals were able to plate two more runs with two outs when Matt Holliday drew a bases-loaded walk and Allen Craig followed with a tapper that turned into an RBI infield single and a 4-1 advantage.

3 DOWN

— Adam Wainwright will miss a start. The big news before Saturday’s game was that the Cardinals’ ace would skip his scheduled start against the Mets on Monday because of tendinitis in his right arm that he disclosed earlier in the week. The move, general manager John Mozeliak told reporters, is "more precautionary than anything else." But it obviously bears watching going forward for the Cy Young Award candidate, who is 9-3 with a 2.15 ERA after 14 starts.

— Mark Ellis’ baserunning blunder. Immediately after hitting a double in the sixth inning, Ellis was tagged out at third base on Holliday’s ground ball to shortstop. The next batter, Allen Craig, hit a single up the middle that might have scored Ellis from second with the go-ahead run. Or Ellis could have scored on the two-out wild pitch from Strasburg. But the Nationals escaped the inning, and the score remained tied at 1-1, when Yadier Molina grounded out and left runners stranded at second and third.

"That’s a pretty tough read," Matheny said. "As we teach our baserunners, it’s all about the ball at you or to your left side and you’re going to be taking off. That ball was more at him than anything else. (Ian) Desmond made a nice, aggressive play, though. A lot of times the middle infielder is going to go ahead to take it to first base. It was an aggressive play. Mark wasn’t happy with himself. That’s a big out, but it ended up not being the deciding run."

— Molina’s rough night. The Cards’ catcher was the only player in the starting lineup not to reach base Saturday. His 0 for 4 included three groundouts and a foul pop-up to first base and, after going hitless in three at-bats a night earlier, dropped his batting average from .292 to .283.

You can follow Nate Latsch on Twitter at @NateLatsch or email him at natelatsch@gmail.com.