Mike Leake might be battling a new opponent called frustration.
Leake, signed as a free agent in the offseason, tumbled to 0-3 on Friday in the St. Louis Cardinals’ 5-4 loss to Washington at Busch Stadium. Leake allowed a game-opening homer to Michael Taylor and a two-run homer to Danny Espinosa in the fourth.
“The frustration’s there,” said the matter-of-fact Leake, who received a five-year, $80-million deal from the Cardinals. “It’s (about) moving on. You can’t change what I’ve already done. You just have to learn from it.
“I just need a low-scoring game. ... I am pretty positive with the direction I’m going. One (bad) month won’t kill you. There’s still five more months to go. Unfortunately, this month went the way it did. You’ve just got to move on.”
I just need a low-scoring game. ... I am pretty positive with the direction I’m going. One (bad) month won’t kill you. There’s still five more months to go. Unfortunately, this month went the way it did. You’ve just got to move on.
Cardinals right-hander Mike Leake, who is 0-3 with a 5.83 ERA
The Cardinals (12-11) fell to 1-6 against teams with winning records. They banged out eight hits in seven innings against Stephen Strasburg (4-0), but Strasburg allowed just two runs, walked one and struck out nine.
Espinosa’s blast, a 395-foot drive to right, highlighted a three-run outburst that put the Nationals ahead to stay and diminished the significance of Matt Adam’s two-run homer to left in the eighth that made it a one-run game.
Leake, who lasted seven innings, allowed five hits, walked one and struck out two. All five runs against Leake were earned as his ERA rose to 5.83.
“I just let it get away for one inning. That’s about it,” Leake said. “I felt like I was throwing the ball pretty well; I just let it get away for an inning.”
Leake retired the Nationals in order in the second, third, fifth and sixth, and faced just four batters in a scoreless seventh before exiting.
“I do feel like I’m getting better each time. The results might not show it, but mentally and through my process, I am getting better.”
Leake credited Espinosa, who was able to get his arms extended on a ball that caught too much of the plate. It was Espinosa’s first home run of the season.
“He put a pretty good at-bat together,” Leake said. “I gave him one.”
Shortstop Jhonny Peralta, sidelined with a torn ligament in his left thumb, has been cleared to begin defensive exercises but has not received the OK to hit.
“I would say in probably another week and a half, he’ll be re-evaluated and I think at that point he’ll probably be given the green light to move forward,” Cardinals General Manager John Mozeliak said. “It wouldn’t surprise me to see him beginning a rehab probably around the 21st of May, somewhere in there.”
Peralta’s return was originally expected to be in late June or early July.
With rookie Aledmys Diaz hitting an otherworldly .420, there’s really no rush for Peralta to return. The Cardinals also have depth in recently acquired Ruben Tejada.
“Obviously, the pace he’s at is historic,” Mozeliak said. “When you think about the word ‘surprised,’ I think we’re all very pleased with what his performance has been. When you look at his spring and where he is today, no doubt, he’s opened up some eyes. His confidence is only growing, and that’s great to see.”
Diaz has just four strikeouts in 69 at-bats.
Outfielder Tommy Pham, disabled by a strained left oblique, is expected to begin a rehab assignment by the middle of next week, Mozeliak said.
“He’s progressing well,” Mozeliak said. “We certainly want to give him this weekend and see how he responds to taking fly balls during BP on Monday and Tuesday, and then make a decision after that. He’s been cleared to hit off a machine, and he’s been doing that (Friday) and will continue to throughout the weekend.”
Pham has played in just one game - the season opener April 3 in Pittsburgh.
Backup catcher Brayan Pena (left knee surgery) is taking “baby steps” toward getting on a treadmill to exercise in about two weeks.
Reliever Mitch Harris (strained elbow) still is feeling discomfort and will be re-evaluated Monday by Dr. George Paletta. Harris began to throw recently, but has stopped.
“He just doesn’t feel like he can finish his pitches,” Mozeliak said. “That’s hard to interpret what that exactly means. That makes it really hard to diagnose and to treat.”
Wong feeling better
Second baseman Kolten Wong walked as a pinch-hitter in the ninth against Jonathan Papelbon, but was wiped out on pinch-hitter Brandon Moss’ double play.
Wong felt dreadful during the series in Arizona as he was attack by a stomach virus.
“I do feel he’s getting his strength back,” Mozeliak said of Wong, who yielded his position to newcomer Jedd Gyorko on Friday.
Wong inked a five-year, $25.5-million extension but has labored to a .216 average (11-for-51) with no extra-base hits. He has a paltry two RBIs.
“Obviously, we made an investment with him and he’s gotten off to a slow start,” Mozeliak said. “At some point, if we feel like we’re not getting him the opportunity he needs, that (a minor-league assignment) is something we will reflect on then.
“But I think at this point, with everything we have going on ... We’ve stated all along, the way this roster’s constructed, that we want to go with the hot hand.”
Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said Wong, who always has been very critical of his own performance, again is falling into a similar trap as he tries to become more productive.
“You don’t just completely lose that,” Matheny said. “That’s a pretty long process to get that out of (you). We don’t necessarily want to completely change guys, but there are things if you see that are detrimental to your progression, you need to make the alterations to fix them. That’s one of the things Kolten’s going to have to figure out how to do.”
Nationals 5, Cardinals 4
Stephen Strasburg improved to 4-0 by allowing two runs on seven hits and striking out nine Friday as Washington nipped the St. Louis Cardinals at Busch Stadium.
By the numbers
Cardinals starter Mike Leake fell to 0-3. He allowed home runs to Michael Taylor in the first and to Danny Espinosa in the fourth. Leake, whose ERA is 5.83, allowed all five of the Nationals runs before exiting after seven innings. ... Matt Adams hit his second home run of the season in the eighth, a two-run shot that made it 5-4. ... Matt Holliday had a double and two singles to lead St. Louis’ 10-hit attack.
Jaime Garcia (1-1, 3.24 ERA) vs. Joe Ross (2-0, 0.54 ERA), 1:15 p.m. Saturday