Wacha think of the rookie? (Nats nearly no-hit in 2-0 loss)

ST. LOUIS - Apologies for that awful pun in the headline. This is how I entertain myself over the course of a 162-game season.

Cardinals starter Michael Wacha has absolutely dominated the Nationals through four innings tonight, retiring all 12 batters he’s seen, six of whom have gone down on strikes.

The 22-year-old right-hander, who was the Cardinals’ first-round pick in the 2012 First-Year Player Draft, has touched 98 mph with his fastball, shown impressive feel for his changeup and used a biting changeup. He’s kept the Nationals’ hitters off-balance, but has also just overpowered them at times, blowing his fastball by them.

The Nats have three balls hit out of the infield to this point, and none of them were really struck that well.

Ryan Zimmerman has struck out twice tonight, once swinging and once looking. Ian Desmond, Adam LaRoche, Anthony Rendon and Gio Gonzalez have also been strikeout victims.

Wacha has thrown just 45 pitches, 35 for strikes. The rookie sure has impressed me tonight, for whatever that’s worth.

He has a 2-0 lead to work with heading to the fifth, after Gio Gonzalez surrendered solo runs in the third and fourth innings.

Back-to-back two-out hits from Matt Carpenter and Shane Robinson plated the first run of the game, and Yadier Molina’s double ripped to the gap in right-center in the bottom of the fourth gave the Cardinals a 2-0 advantage.

The way Wacha has been pitching to this point, those two runs might just be enough tonight.

Update: The Nats are without a hit through six innings now, and they really should still be without a baserunner.

A brutal Matt Carpenter error with two outs in the 5th allowed Adam LaRoche to reach, but LaRoche is the only National to get anything at all off Wacha thus far. Carpenter just completely booted LaRoche’s slow grounder, which rolled through his legs and into shallow right field.

He looked miserable as he turned back to the diamond, knowing that he spoiled Wacha’s shot at a perfect game.

The Nats have made better contact recently, but three straight line drive from Wilson Ramos, Rendon and Gonzalez all found gloves.

Denard Span tried to bunt for a base hit with two outs in the sixth, which upset a portion of the Cardinals fans in attendance here tonight. They greeted Span with boos as he turned back for home plate after the bunt rolled foul.

Wacha might have a no-hitter going, but the Nats trail by just two. At this stage in the game, with the score what it is, a bunt isn’t out of line, even with Wacha chasing a no-no.

Span then grounded out to second to end the sixth. Wacha has thrown just 70 pitches through six.

Update II: Make that seven innings of no-hit ball for Wacha.

Zimmerman drew a walk leading off the top of the seventh, but Jayson Werth, Bryce Harper and Desmond went down in order from there. Werth popped out to second, Harper struck out swinging and Desmond grounded out to second.

This is starting to get really interesting now. Wacha is six outs away from a no-hitter, with the Nats’ 6-8 hitters due up in the eighth.

This will be the first time in nine career starts that Wacha will work into the eighth inning.

Update III: The Nationals are three outs from being no-hit.

Another leadoff walk started the eighth, this one drawn by LaRoche, but Wilson Ramos grounded into a 6-4-3 double play on a 2-0 fastball over the heart of the plate and Anthony Rendon flew out into the left field corner, bringing an end to the inning.

Ramos got a great pitch to hit on a great hitter’s count, but he smacked it right to shortstop Pete Kozma, who started the double play. Rendon’s fly ball drew some gasps from the crowd at Busch Stadium, but Shane Robinson coasted under it for the out.

A pinch-hitter, Span and Zimmerman will be due up in the ninth for the Nats.

Update IV: That’s nearly as close as a pitcher can come to a no-hitter without actually notching one.

Wacha got Steve Lombardozzi to ground out to short leading off the ninth and then struck out Span looking to bring himself an out away from history.

But Zimmerman’s high tapper got just over the mound, and Pete Kozma’s throw to first pulled first baseman Matt Adams off the bag. Adams tried to apply a sweep tag, but he missed Zimmerman, and first base ump Jeff Kellogg correctly called Zimmerman safe.

The crowd of 38,940 at Busch Stadium screamed their disapproval with the call, then started cheering Wacha’s effort.

Wacha was then pulled from the game after having thrown 112 pitches, and Werth grounded out to first to end it.

The Nats lose 2-0, but at least they avoided being no-hit. As if that’s much consolation.

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