ST. LOUIS (AP)—Braden Looper gave the lightly-regarded St. Louis Cardinals rotation its fourth straight stingy outing and Rick Ankiel hit a two-run home run in a 5-4 victory over the Washington Nationals on Friday night.
The surprising Cardinals are 3-1, two games above .500 for the first time since the end of the 2006 season, and handed the Nationals their second straight loss after a 3-0 start. Despite beginning the year with Chris Carpenter, Mark Mulder, Joel Pineiro and Matt Clement on the 15-day disabled list, Cardinals starters have allowed only two earned runs in 22 2-3 innings.
Cristian Guzman homered in a three-run seventh that narrowed the gap to a run and Ryan Zimmerman flied out to the center field wall off Ryan Franklin to end the eighth.
Jason Isringhausen allowed a hit and a walk but struck out three in the ninth for his second save.
Looper (1-0), beginning his second season as a starter after making 572 appearances as a closer or setup man, allowed a run and five hits in six innings and left leading 5-1. Looper pitched in a minor league game on March 25, his final spring start, rather than give the Nationals a sneak peek.Brian Barton, making his first career start after being taken in the Rule 5 draft, doubled to start the bottom of the first off Odalis Perez, and Ankiel lined a first-pitch fastball an estimated 425 feet over the right-field wall for his second homer. Looper and ninth-place hitter Aaron Miles each had an RBI in the fourth and Yadier Molina had a run-scoring single in the fifth.
Perez (0-1) allowed five runs and eight hits in four-plus innings and is 3-5 with an 8.87 ERA for his career against the Cardinals. Albert Pujols hit his 300th career double off the center-field wall in the first and walked against the left-hander, making him 14-for-21 with five homers against Perez.