WASHINGTON -- The Nationals began the season concerned about Daniel Murphy, worrying that perhaps he had not received enough at-bats this spring after he received limited action in the World Baseball Classic. But Murphy, the runner-up for last season's National League Most Valuable Player Award, appears to not have missed a beat, as he led the Nationals to an 8-3 victory over the Cardinals at Nationals Park.
He collected four more hits Tuesday night, including a two-run home run in the fifth inning, finishing a triple shy of the cycle. Murphy matched a career high with four hits and five RBIs. He now owns a Major League-leading 17 hits on the season.
"I'm getting pitches to hit, and I feel like I'm hitting them on the barrel," Murphy said. "Fortunate enough to have some success tonight."
"Murph is unreal," Nats left-hander Gio Gonzalez said. "Right now, the guy's a human torch. Can't touch him. He's just on fire. He's just hitting the ball, seeing it big, almost looks like they're throwing beach balls and watermelons at him. Pretty solid right now. Tough guy to get out, and once he gets going, tough guy to turn off."
Meanwhile, St. Louis has now dropped six of its first eight games this season and will try to avoid being swept in Wednesday's series finale.
"What we're doing right now isn't good enough," Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said. "We have to get better. That's all there is to it."
Jayson Werth and Matt Wieters each launched a solo home run in the fourth inning off Cardinals right-hander Lance Lynn, whose second outing in his return from Tommy John surgery did not go as smoothly as the first. In five innings, he allowed six runs (four earned) on five hits, three of which were home runs. It marked the third time in Lynn's career that he allowed three homers in one game and first since 2013.
"When you see that lineup, you know that they're capable of that," said Lynn, who threw 101 pitches. "I made three mistakes. It cost me three home runs. … You have to make some pitches and execute, and I wasn't able to do that when I needed to."
Gonzalez delivered another impressive start. He allowed two runs (one earned) on six hits with six strikeouts in seven innings, and retired the final 11 hitters he faced.
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED Making them pay: A year ago, the Nationals had problems preventing teams from walking Bryce Harper, but with Murphy hitting behind him in the lineup he is able to punish teams for putting Harper on base. Lynn issued a leadoff walk to Harper in the fifth inning, and Murphy made him pay with a two-run homer to right field. The ball left Murphy's bat at 102.5 mph and traveled 384 feet, as tracked by Statcast™, and extended the Nationals' lead to four runs to put the game out of reach.
"Murph's picking it up," Nationals manager Dusty Baker said. "He seems like he has it all together now because he's waiting on pitches -- certain balls that he was swinging at before. He's on the fastball, he's on the breaking ball and he has a pretty good idea always what they're trying to do to him. Boy, that was a great offensive showing by Daniel tonight."
Extra outs, extra runs: The Cardinals' defense complicated things for Lynn in the third and opened the door for the Nationals to nab their first lead. A groundball by Adam Eaton squirted past third baseman Jhonny Peralta and was then bobbled by shortstop Aledmys Diaz. A clean play by Peralta could have started an inning-ending double play. Instead, the Cardinals didn't garner a single out. That bit them, too, as Murphy later came up with two outs and delivered the go-ahead, two-run single.
"It was really tough," Peralta said of the play. "I tried to get it, but I couldn't get it. If we don't get the double play, one out would work." More >
"He's starting to throw the ball well. We need Gio. We knew that when we started the season." -- Baker, on another strong outing by Gonzalez
"He's talking about the craziest stuff I ever heard of before. I try not to listen to him, but it's working for him. He has a good plan. He knows what he's doing. If I tried to do that, I might never get a hit. But it's impressive, what he's doing is impressive." -- Werth, on Murphy
INJURY UPDATE Stephen Drew left the game before the start of the sixth inning with a right hamstring injury. Drew injured himself when his cleat got caught running out of the batter's box during a grounder back to the pitcher to end the fifth inning. After the game Baker did not sound optimistic about Drew, who was going to be the Nationals' primary shortstop while Trea Turner was on the DL. More >
SOUND SMART WITH YOUR FRIENDS
After he walked the first three times he came to the plate Tuesday night, Harper had reached base in nine consecutive plate appearances, dating back to Monday night. That matched a career high that Harper set on May 7-8 of last season, during the now-famous series against the Cubs at Wrigley Field where he was walked 13 times during the weekend.
UPON FURTHER REVIEW
Washington's two-run third was aided by a successful challenge that overturned what would have been the second out of the inning. Gonzalez was initially ruled out at second on a force play, but a replay review quickly corrected the call. The play would never have been that close, though, had either third baseman Peralta or shortstop Diaz cleanly fielded Eaton's groundball. Diaz was given the error.
The Cardinals got the benefit of an overturned call in the fourth. After a 34-second review, Jose Martinez was awarded an infield single. He had been initially called out by first-base umpire Brian Knight.
WHAT'S NEXT Cardinals: The Cardinals will close out their only '17 trip to Nationals Park with a 3:05 p.m. CT game against the Nationals on Wednesday. Mike Leake, who took a hard-luck loss while allowing one run over eight innings in his season debut, will start for St. Louis. Leake is 3-5 with a 4.71 ERA against Washington, but hasn't won against the team since 2011.
Nationals:Max Scherzer will take the ball for the Nationals in Wednesday's series finale against the Cardinals, at 4:05 p.m. ET. He threw 6 2/3 innings of two-run ball in his season debut against the Phillies while striking out seven and reaching 98 pitches.