WASHINGTON -- A switch of settings did nothing to ignite the Cardinals' offense, which remained dormant as the club opened a four-game series against the National League East-leading Nationals on Thursday.
St. Louis succumbed to its own former starter, Edwin Jackson, en route to nearly being shut out for the third straight night. The Cardinals ran their scoreless-innings skid to 28 innings -- the longest such drought since going 33 innings without a run in the summer of 1995 -- before scoring an unearned run in the eighth.
While perhaps mattering for morale, it didn't do much to beautify the final score, which ended up 8-1 in the Nationals' favor.
Compounding the night, too, was seeing starting shortstop Rafael Furcal exit the game holding his right elbow. The team described the injury as a strain, though Furcal is headed back to St. Louis on Friday to get a clearer diagnosis on what is likely to be determined a season-ending injury.
"It's sore right now," Furcal said. "It's bad. I cannot extend it. I hope it's nothing bad."
As for the offense, it continues to hibernate.
The first 21 of these 28 straight scoreless innings came in Pittsburgh, where the Cardinals lost a chance to create some separation between themselves and the Pirates. Washington then piled on the frustration by battering Cardinals starter Jaime Garcia and minimizing St. Louis' own offensive opportunities.
Jackson, who signed with the Nationals last winter after spending the end of the 2011 season with the Cardinals, handled the first eight innings with 123 pitches. St. Louis tallied just four hits, and it wasn't until the eighth that one of those went for extra bases.
"Tonight, Edwin clearly brought his A-game and stuck it to us pretty good," first baseman Allen Craig said. "He was pretty impressive tonight. You never like to tip your hat to the pitcher as an offense, but he was tough and we didn't do some things right."
Those flaws, as manager Mike Matheny described them, were getting too swing-happy on pitches outside the strike zone. That contributed to Jackson's 10 strikeouts and his ability to garner a slew of groundouts.
"Just as well as I know them, they know me," Jackson said. "Like I always said, it was a matter of executing."
The Cardinals' ineffectiveness these last three nights has been perplexing. The club had averaged 4.92 runs per game this month before meeting James McDonald on Tuesday, Wandy Rodriguez on Wednesday and Jackson on Thursday. In those three games combined, the Cardinals scratched across only 14 hits -- 12 of which were singles. Only seven baserunners have reached second.
"What's inexplicable is that you can see us blow away pitchers that you wouldn't think it would happen with, and other matchups that look like we can get production and it's a no-show," Matheny said. "We're going out there with the same routine, the same thought philosophies, the same conversations in our team meetings. It's just kind of unfortunately defined who we are this year. It's a matter of figuring out a way to lengthen those hot streaks."
It took a two-base throwing error by Nationals third baseman Ryan Zimmerman to get the Cardinals on the scoreboard. Recent callup Bryan Anderson scored on the play after leading off the frame with a double.
That run kept the Cardinals from enduring three straight shutout losses for the first time since 1976.
"We've run into a bit of a bad spell," outfielder Matt Holliday said. "Then they are swinging the bats well, and combine that with Edwin pitching well tonight, that's a bad formula."
Anderson's hit was the only extra-base knock of the night for the Cardinals. Washington matched that total two batters into the contest.
After issuing a leadoff walk to Jayson Werth, Garcia served up Bryce Harper's 15th home run of the season. Werth scored again in the third -- this time on an Adam LaRoche sacrifice fly -- and then pushed the Nationals' lead to four with his fifth-inning solo homer.
Garcia's outing came to a halt after allowing three of the first four batters he faced in the sixth to reach base. Two of them scored, leaving Garcia charged with six runs in what was his third start back from a left shoulder injury.
In his eyes, though, it wasn't all bad.
"[It was] definitely better than last time," Garcia said. "It's just one of those things that I felt like every single little mistake that I made, I feel like they took advantage of it. They have a really good thing going on. It was just a tough day for me."
On this road trip, Garcia has surrendered 10 runs and 16 hits in 11 1/3 innings. He's also given up two home runs to left-handed hitters. How unusual is that? Well, in Garcia's first 82 career appearances, only three left-handed batters took him deep.
Washington wrapped up its scoring with two runs off reliever Lance Lynn in the seventh.
As absent as the Cardinals' hitting has been recently, the starting pitching hasn't been exceptional either. Thursday marked the seventh time in the team's last eight games that St. Louis' starter was unable to finish six innings.
"In general, these guys have been extremely durable and have been able to go long into the game," said Matheny. "That has been one of our strengths this year. I just think it's a blip on the screen right now."
With the loss, the Cardinals' lead for the second NL Wild Card spot is down to a half-game.
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, By Gosh, It's Langosch, and follow her on Twitter @LangoschMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.