Harper, Espinosa HRs carry Nationals over Cardinals 2-1

WASHINGTON (AP) Even when he's struggling at the plate, Bryce Harper knows how to put a good swing on a bad pitch.

Harper hit a slump-busting home run, Danny Espinosa also went deep and the Washington Nationals got seven strong innings from right-hander Joe Ross in a 2-1 victory over the St. Louis Cardinals on Thursday night.

Washington trailed 1-0 in the sixth inning before Harper ended a 4-for-33 skid with a no-doubt-about-it shot into the upper deck, far beyond the wall in right field. It was his 12th homer of the season, the first since May 13.

''It felt good to get one,'' Harper said. ''It was the kind of pitch I could handle and do some damage.''

The light-hitting Espinosa snapped the tie in the seventh with a drive to right. Batting eighth, Espinosa came in with a .199 batting average and three home runs.

Both homers came off Mike Leake (3-4), who won his previous three starts while allowing only two runs over 21 innings.

''Hanging changeup and a hanging slider, right where hitters want the ball,'' Leake said. ''If you take those back, it's a zero-run ballgame.''

The first-place Nationals have been winning in spite of Harper's recent dry spell, but he was delighted to contribute to this one.

''It was good to get the `W,''' he said.

Harper, the reigning NL MVP, is batting .245 after a 1-for-4 performance.

''I feel good. Swing feels great, hands feel good,'' he said.

Ross (4-4) gave up one run and six hits over seven innings. He had lost four straight decisions since beating the Cardinals in St. Louis on April 30.

''I was hoping for him to get the win,'' manager Dusty Baker said. ''He had been trying so long.''

Felipe Rivero worked the eighth and Jonathan Papelbon got three straight outs for his 13th save.

Aledmys Diaz homered for St. Louis, 0-4 against Washington this season.

The Cardinals were without their top run producer, Matt Carpenter, who was placed on the paternity list earlier Thursday. He leads St. Louis with nine homers and 32 RBIs.

''A couple solo home runs shouldn't be enough to do that to us,'' manager Mike Matheny said after the loss, ''but we just had trouble doing anything offensively.''

Washington, in turn, went through the game with torrid-hitting Daniel Murphy on the bench. He was given the day off by Baker, who said, ''One of their big bats is out of the lineup, so they offset. It worked out perfectly.''

The Nationals got runners on second and third with two outs in the second before Espinosa grounded out.

Diaz led off the fourth with his seventh home run, a drive to left into the St. Louis bullpen.

I GOT IT

One play before Espinosa's home run, Stephen Drew hit a popup that was converged upon by third baseman Greg Garcia and Diaz, the shortstop, both of whom had their gloves raised to make the catch. The players collided and the ball popped out of Garcia's glove - right into the mitt of catcher Yadier Molina, who was trailing the play.

TRAINER'S ROOM

Cardinals: 1B Matt Adams left in the fifth inning with mid-back stiffness. He will be re-examined Friday. ... INF Jhonny Peralta will report to Double-A Springfield on Friday after going 3 for 13 in five rehab games at Single-A Peoria. Peralta was operated on in March to repair an injured ligament in his left thumb. Matheny says, ''He's one guy on the immediate radar to help us.''

Nationals: Reliever Matt Belisle (right calf strain) will make a rehab appearance Saturday with Class A Potomac. The 35-year-old tossed a scoreless inning in both his previous outings with Potomac.

UP NEXT

Cardinals: LHP Jaime Garcia (3-4, 3.59 ERA) enters Friday night's game in bounce-back mode after giving up a total of eight runs and 15 hits in his last two starts.

Nationals: RHP Max Scherzer (5-3, 3.80) is 1-2 lifetime against St. Louis, but he threw seven shutout innings against the Cardinals on May 1.

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