WASHINGTON -- After a spring of grinding through swing adjustments, hopeful that the payoff would hit when the regular season did, Stephen Piscotty instead found himself unable to generate much offensive momentum on the opening homestand because of a scarcity of consistent at-bats.
"The rhythm," he explained, "was just out of whack."
But Piscotty leaves Nationals Park feeling much better than when he arrived after a five-RBI game sparked a 6-1 win and renewed confidence in his swing on Wednesday.
Piscotty helped the Cardinals crack through against reigning National League Cy Young Award-winner Max Scherzer with an RBI single to cap an eight-pitch at-bat in the first inning. His two-out single in the fifth pushed the team's lead to three. Piscotty then capped his big offensive afternoon with a three-run blast off reliever Joe Blanton in the ninth.
"It was Piscotty 5 and us 1," Nationals manager Dusty Baker lamented afterward.
The five RBIs tied a single-game career high for Piscotty, and the three hits matched his total from the team's first eight games. It had hardly been a routine start to the season for Piscotty, however. His first week included a contract extension, a trip around the bases in which was hit three times, and a slide that tweaked his knee. Because of the latter two incidents, he had started only half of the team's first six games.
But Piscotty said he began to feel in sync as this three-game series deepened, and showed on Wednesday why the Cardinals see him fitting well in the cleanup spot for the long term.
"I don't think we've seen the best of him," manager Mike Matheny said. "I really don't. There is something in there with this kid that there is going to be another level, and I think consistency is going to be with that other level. I love for him to be up there in those big situations. He's a guy who seems to keep stepping up."
All three of Piscotty's hits came with runners in scoring position, boosting his career average in such spots to .377. Since 2015, he ranks first in the Majors with that mark.
"I can't give away any secrets approach-wise, but I like being in that position where there is a chance to do some damage and get the blood pumping," Piscotty said. "It's something I enjoy."
Piscotty also saw Wednesday's results as a byproduct of a process that began two months ago. He entered Spring Training seeking to do a better job staying on his back foot, believing that would allow him to get more lift and drive on the ball. Getting the swing path in sync with the footwork had tangled him up over the last week.
On Wednesday, Piscotty saw what can be when the two facets come together. According to Statcast™, Piscotty's home run was his hardest-hit ball of the season at 107.2 mph. In fact, his two hardest-hit balls came on Wednesday, as the RBI double off Scherzer came off his bat at 105.3 mph.
It marked the first time in Piscotty's career that he had two base hits with an exit velocity of at least 105 mph in the same game.
"I did it right today," Piscotty said. "I've felt it coming the past few days. It's just been getting better and better."
Jenifer Langosch has covered the Cardinals for MLB.com since 2012, and previously covered the Pirates from 2007-11. Follow her on Twitter, like her Facebook page and listen to her podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.