Another starter struggles early in Cardinals’ 7-6 loss to Nationals

John Gant finished with four runs allowed on four hits and two walks in 2 2/3 innings.
Mary Holt-USA TODAY Sports

The St. Louis Cardinals’ run of less-than-stellar outings by starting pitchers continued Friday night in a 7-6 loss to the Washington Nationals.

Defensive lapses led to the Cardinals tying the game 6-6 in the ninth and the Nationals winning it in the bottom half of the inning. But the story was another Cardinals starter struggling early — the fourth in five Grapefruit League games this season.

John Gant got the start at The Ballpark of the Palm Beaches in West Palm Beach, Florida, and the trouble started early. He allowed a single and a walk while retiring two batters, then gave up a three-run home run to Alex Avila.

As they’ve been doing with most of their starters this week, the Cardinals opted to end the inning based on pitch count rather than getting three outs.

Gant came back to pitch a 1-2-3 second inning. In the third, however, the Nationals tagged the right-hander for two doubles and a walk to score their fourth run of the night. Gant finished with four runs allowed on four hits and two walks in 2 2/3 innings.

On the plus side, Gant did pitch into the third inning, a first by a Cardinals starter this spring.

The Cardinals scored twice in the second inning on a double by outfielder Lane Thomas. Both runs were charged to Nationals starter Max Scherzer, who had just been replaced by reliever Luis Avilan.

The Cardinals got another run in the third when third baseman Nolan Arenado, who had led off with a single, scored on a single by catcher Andrew Knizner. It was one of two hits in three at-bats by Knizner, who also scored two runs and threw out a would-be base stealer at second.

The Cardinals got two more runs off Washington relievers — one on an RBI single by Thomas, who finished 2 for 4 with three RBIs — while the Nationals got two more after Gant left the game to take a 6-5 lead into the ninth. But neither team was done.

The Cardinals tied the score in the top of the ninth when second baseman Max Moroff reached second on an error, advanced to third on a wild pitch and scored on Tyler Heineman’s sacrifice fly.

Johan Quezada took over for St. Louis in the bottom of the inning and retired the first two batters. But the right-hander walked Luis Garcia, who advanced to third on a single and scored the winning run on catcher Ali Sánchez’s throwing error.

The Cardinals fell to 1-2-2 in Grapefruit League play.