ST. LOUIS -- Maybe this was the low point. The Cardinals certainly must hope so. With Matt Holliday returning to the active roster on Thursday and a long stretch of home games beckoning after that, they have things to look forward to.
It's a good thing, because the present and recent past don't offer much for the Redbirds to smile about. They took an ugly 10-0 loss to the Nationals on Wednesday night in which no facet of the club distinguished itself. It was the fifth straight loss for St. Louis, extending what was already a season-long skid.
Kyle McClellan could have been better in his return from the disabled list, and the same could be said of the defense behind him. Ryan Franklin struggled mightily, allowing the Nationals their first back-to-back homers of the year. And the St. Louis offense could muster next to nothing against Livan Hernandez.
The Cardinals tallied three hits, while permitting 15. Their error total was as high as their hit count, and their number of home runs allowed was higher still (four).
"It was just kind of a frustrating game," McClellan said.
Hernandez, something of a punching bag for the Cards in recent years, was at his most beguiling against a slumping offense. He got some help from his defense, as several hard-hit balls landed safely in defenders' gloves, but he also did all the things that have made him effective over his lengthy career.
He doesn't throw hard, but he locates his pitches, moves them all over the place and throws at a variety of different speeds. Hernandez isn't intimidating, but he's still no fun to face when he's going well.
"He did his job," manager Tony La Russa said. "It was pitching. He changed speeds, moved the ball around. Ball down, ball up, in, out. It was a masterful job of pitching."
St. Louis has been held to three runs or fewer six times in the past nine games and has been shut out twice on its current road trip. Hernandez broke a personal six-game losing streak with his 50th career complete game and ninth shutout. Over his previous four starts against St. Louis, Hernandez had 17 earned runs in 24 2/3 innings.
"I liked everything," Hernandez said. "The sinker and the slider were working very good. I can't ask for anything else. Everything was working perfectly. The changeup was working today, too."
Meanwhile, the other side of things went no better for the visitors. McClellan threw plenty of strikes in his first start after missing time due to a strained left hip flexor, but he also missed with quite a few of those strikes -- leading to four extra-base hits in five innings. Albert Pujols, playing third base, committed two errors, each leading to a run, and McClellan was done after five innings and five runs (three earned).
"I made some bad pitches, obviously, but I felt like I made some good pitches," McClellan said. "They just hit it where it was pitched. Sometimes you're going to have that. I've got to do a better job of staying out of that big inning."
McClellan's early exit opened the door for Franklin, the deposed closer who is now the Cards' long reliever. Franklin faced 11 batters and retired four of them, one on a sacrifice bunt. Michael Morse, who homered and doubled off of McClellan, kept up the beat with a blast against Franklin, and Danny Espinosa made it two in a row with a monster shot off the façade of the second deck in right field.
The Cardinals have been outscored, 35-12, over the course of their losing streak. The last time they lost five in a row was from Aug. 28-Sept. 1, 2010.
"This one was like the way we pitched all day and yesterday, and even some in Milwaukee," La Russa said. "We're just in a little bit of a rut right now, where we're falling behind and having to throw a ball over the middle, or trying to make a pitch when we're ahead and throwing it over the middle. Offenses get in a rut. Pitching gets in a rut. That's just the way this game is."
Matthew Leach is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Obviously, You're Not a Golfer and follow him on Twitter at @MatthewHLeach. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.