WASHINGTON (AP) – The Washington Nationals are making a habit of making mediocre pitchers look good.

Jason Marquis was the latest opponent to take advantage of Washington’s majors-worst offense, snapping a seven-start losing streak by throwing his first career shutout to lead the St. Louis Cardinals past the Nationals 6-0 Saturday.

Marquis (10-13) gave up two hits, didn’t walk a batter and struck out three. He wasn’t supposed to start until Sunday but was pushed up in the rotation to fill in for Mark Mulder, who had a stiff neck.

The Cardinals scored four runs in four innings off Matt White (0-1), who was called up from Triple-A New Orleans to make his first career start in the majors. David Eckstein drove in one of those runs, then added a two-run homer in the seventh off Mike Stanton, drawing cheers from the considerable contingent of Cardinals fans among the announced crowd of 44,254 and boos from the locals.

The Cardinals had won one of Marquis’ previous 13 starts, and he was 0-7 with a 7.24 ERA in his last seven outings. But, just like the Cincinnati Reds’ Luke Hudson and Brandon Claussen in Washington’s prior series and plenty of other examples through the season, Marquis suddenly seemed unhittable.

He retired his first seven batters before Cristian Guzman, who entered the game batting .194, grounded a single to left in the third. Then Marquis set down another 10 in a row until Marlon Byrd lined a two-out single to left in the sixth. But the right-hander got Jose Vidro to pop out to Eckstein in shallow left, starting a game-ending run of 10 batters retired consecutively.

Marquis did benefit from a couple of nice plays – right fielder John Rodriguez jumped against the fence to catch a drive by Brian Schneider – but otherwise it was simply a case of Washington doing little to make a pitcher sweat.

It’s nothing new, of course.

The Nationals entered the day last in the big leagues in batting average (.253), slugging percentage (.390), and runs (505). Only one position player on the roster is hitting above .300: Jose Guillen, who went 0-for-3 and dropped to .301.

That lack of offense is a big reason Washington has been so inconsistent, winning at least two games in a row just twice since the All-Star break as it dropped from first to last in the NL East.

One thing the Nationals have been able to count on, though, has been pitching. But with Ryan Drese on the disabled list, and Tony Armas Jr. having shoulder trouble, White made his first appearance in the majors since six relief appearances in 2003.

Dragging his foot across the third-base line as he jogged from the dugout to the mound each inning, White was OK for two innings. But in the third, he gave up a single to Abraham Nunez, threw a wild pitch, walked Eckstein, hit Jim Edmonds, then gave up a sacrifice fly to Albert Pujols for the first run.

After walking Yadier Molina on four pitches and reloading the bases, White gave up So Taguchi’s liner to left, making it 3-0. White was done after the fourth, when he gave up Eckstein’s RBI single.

Notes: Marquis had never gone more than 8 1-3 innings in 98 career starts. … Mulder said he wasn’t sure why his neck tightened up Friday. He hopes to be able to pitch Sunday. If he can’t, manager Tony La Russa said the most likely candidate for a spot start would be Brad Thompson, who threw one inning in relief Friday. … White was the first left-hander to start a game for the Nationals. … Washington CF Preston Wilson made a sliding catch to rob Pujols of a hit in the seventh. … Rodriguez appeared to catch his foot under the wall’s padding and twist his left ankle on his leaping grab.

AP-ES-08-27-05 1552EDT

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