- Associated Press - Sunday, May 1, 2016

ST. LOUIS — Max Scherzer always makes sure to eat toasted ravioli when he returns to Missouri.

After he pitched seven strong innings on Sunday to beat his hometown team for the first time, maybe Scherzer should have the local specialty more often.

“That’s the best I’ve seen Max this year,” Washington Nationals manager Dusty Baker said after his team completed a three-game sweep of the St. Louis Cardinals with a 6-1 victory. “Sharp with the breaking ball, good velocity. It was Max’s day. Max kept us in the game until our offense did something.”

Clint Robinson and Danny Espinosa hit back-to-back home runs, providing the power for Washington (17-7) on a day when Bryce Harper struck out all four times.

Scherzer (3-1), who grew up in suburban St. Louis, struck out nine and scattered four singles. He didn’t allow a runner past first base, earning his first win in five career starts against the Cardinals (12-13).



“I instantly could feel like I was on top of the ball and anytime I needed it the fastball was down at the knees,” Scherzer said. “That’s when I’m at my best. When I can throw the fastball early in the counts and throw strikes in and away, it just sets up all my stuff.”

By finishing the weekend sweep, the Nationals, who claimed the best start in club history through 24 games, emphatically ended years of frustration at Busch Stadium. It was their first series win in St. Louis since May 2007.

Carlos Martinez (4-1) needed only 63 pitches to get through his first five innings but was charged with four runs and seven hits in 6 2/3 innings. He walked none and struck out eight, including Harper three times.

Martinez left the Cardinals briefly late last week to address a personal matter. The 24-year-old right-hander is the subject of a civil lawsuit filed against him by a woman in West Palm Beach, Florida, near the team’s spring training site in Jupiter.

The lawsuit filed in Miami seeks more than $1.5 million and accuses the pitcher of a negligent transmission of a sexually transmitted disease. It seeks actual and special damages along with mental anguish and exemplary damages. It also seeks punitive damages because of outrageous actions.

Martinez’s attorney has said the claims are false. The pitcher mostly avoided the issue after the game.

“I’m pretty sure I am healthy and I’m pretty sure I’m feeling good and I’m pretty sure I know who I am and at the same time, this is not part of the job,” Martinez said through a translator. “That’s for my lawyer and agent to take care of.”

Matt den Dekker snapped Martinez’s 16-inning scoreless streak with a single in the sixth to score Jose Lobaton, breaking a scoreless tie.

The home runs by Robinson and Espinoza happened on consecutive pitches in the seventh, quickly turning a one-run game into a 4-0 lead.

“[Martinez] had one of his best fastballs he’s had yet,” Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said. “Command of his off-speed stuff just one inning got him.”

Five of the Nationals’ runs occurred on first-pitch swings.

“The best pitch to hit, especially with runners in scoring position, is the first pitch, because the pitcher’s going to try to get ahead of you and then he’s going to go to work on you,” Baker said. “So you’ve got to get to work on him before they go to work on you.”

Daniel Murphy added an RBI double in the eighth, and pinch-hitter Chris Heisey hit a home run in the ninth.

Scherzer also had a pair of hits, the second of which chased Martinez. Scherzer’s bunt moved Lobaton into scoring position ahead of den Dekker’s single.

Brandon Moss’ opposite-field home run with two outs in the ninth kept the Cardinals from being shut out.

Before the game, Wilson Ramos was activated from the bereavement list, and Pedro Severino was optioned to Triple-A Syracuse.

Left-hander Gio Gonzalez (1-1, 1.42 ERA) will get the start on Monday as Washington begins a three-game series at the Kansas City Royals, who counter with right-hander Edinson Volquez (3-1, 3.34 ERA).

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