WASHINGTON (AP) Coming off a miserable start, Gio Gonzalez struck out the first three batters he faced.
After that, however, it was another struggle for the Nationals left-hander.
Gonzalez didn't make it out of the fifth inning, and Washington wasted three home runs in a 9-4 loss to the St. Louis Cardinals on Saturday night.
The game turned in the second inning, when Gonzalez issued two walks before yielding three straight hits - including a two-run double by pitcher Adam Wainwright.
''He had the two walks, which got his pitch count up,'' Washington manager Dusty Baker said. ''That led to a big inning, four runs that inning. Then it really hurt when Wainwright got that double.''
Gonzalez (3-3) allowed six runs and six hits, along with four walks, in 4 2/3 innings. In his previous start, he gave up seven runs and 10 hits in five innings against the Mets.
''My biggest upset right now is how much work I'm giving my bullpen,'' Gonzalez said. ''I can't stand that. I'm a way better pitcher than what I'm showing out there. It sucks that these guys are constantly picking up my mess.''
Ryan Zimmerman went 4 for 4 with two homers, and Bryce Harper had a solo shot for the Nationals, who send unbeaten Stephen Strasburg to the mound Sunday hoping to salvage a split of the four-game series.
Harper's home run was his 13th of the season and second in three games. But the reigning NL MVP is 7 for 43 (.163) since May 13, dropping his batting average 33 points to .245.
With the exception of the long ball, the Nationals didn't do much against Wainwright (5-3), who allowed four runs and six hits in seven innings.
Just as important: His double into the left-center gap in the second.
''Several times a year, a pitcher has a chance to swing a ballgame in his favor with a positive plate appearance,'' Wainwright said. ''Sometimes that's getting a bunt down, sometimes that's getting a hit when you need it. Off a tough pitcher like Gio, you have to take advantage of those situations.''
Matt Carpenter, activated from the paternity list before the game, followed with an RBI double for a 4-0 lead.
Wainwright made it stand up.
''He's one of the best,'' Harper said. ''Against a guy like that, when you get behind early against a team like that, it's hard to battle back.''
After St. Louis' big second inning, Zimmerman connected in the bottom half after Daniel Murphy hit a leadoff single. Murphy's hit was his 41st in May, most ever in one month by a Nationals player since the team moved from Montreal in 2005.
Matt Holliday went deep in the third and Randal Grichuk snapped an 0-for-11 skid in the fifth with an RBI double to chase Gonzalez. Harper homered to the deep center in the sixth, and Zimmerman hit his second of the game leading off the seventh to get Washington to 6-4.
Matt Adams answered with a pinch-hit, two-run double in the eighth.
Greg Garcia had three hits and an RBI for the Cardinals. Recalled from the minors Thursday when Carpenter was placed on the paternity list, Garcia is batting .647 in 11 big league games this season.
Cardinals: SS Jhonny Peralta (left thumb ligament) was held from the Double-A Springfield lineup Saturday night after cutting a finger on his right hand. The cut, which required stitches, will interrupt his rehabilitation assignment for a few days.
Nationals: RHP Matt Belisle (right calf strain) received treatment in the Nats training room before packing a bag and driving to nearby Woodbridge, Virginia, for a rehab stint with Class A Potomac. ''I feel great. Ready to rock,'' said Belisle, who was slated to throw two innings.
Cardinals: RHP Michael Wacha (2-5, 5.04 ERA) starts the finale Sunday after allowing 20 runs in his last three starts, including a career-high eight in his last outing vs. Chicago.
Nationals: Strasburg (8-0, 2.79) is 11-0 with a 2.14 ERA in last 14 starts, dating back to Sept. 15.