Carlos Martinez may be the least of the Cardinals' worries

ST. LOUIS – Carlos Martinez looked exhausted.

For the previous four days, he had been dealing with what he suspects was the flu. The previous 48 hours had been a blur of airline flights, meetings and coughing fits as he had to travel back to Miami in the wake of a potentially embarrassing civil lawsuit filed there against him.

When he left the clubhouse Saturday afternoon, he told manager Mike Matheny he thought he was too sick to make the next day's start. He woke up the next morning feeling a little better, and called Matheny to tell him he would take the ball.

After five brilliant innings followed by a mediocre one and a bad one in a 6-1 St. Louis Cardinals loss, Martinez discussed the fallout of the lawsuit and how it might affect his season. He is 4-1 with a 2.60 ERA. Sunday was his first loss of the season and the first outing in which he has given up more than three runs. As he spoke to reporters, he could barely keep his eyes open.

"I'm pretty sure I feel healthy. I know who I am," Martinez said through an interpreter. "That's up to my lawyer and my agent to take care of. I just simply have to battle against the hitters here."

Max Scherzer looked buoyant. He had just fixed a mechanical flaw he blamed for his uncharacteristically bad April, in which the former Cy Young winner had a 4.35 ERA and had given up five home runs and 12 walks.

It's fair to say few of the hitters on either team had much fun Sunday, which isn't surprising since they had to face two of the most intimidating right-handed pitchers in baseball, who for a while hooked up in what was one of the more entertaining pitchers' duels of the young season. Martinez has been the fourth-hardest-throwing pitcher in baseball this season, Scherzer the 17th-hardest thrower.

Martinez somehow breezed along, striking hitters out with 97-mph fastballs and darting breaking balls until a couple of fastballs became home runs in the seventh inning and turned the game sharply in Washington's favor.

Scherzer, the 2013 Cy Young winner, did what he does so well when he does it well, mixing his mid-90s fastball with his slider and changeup, and was able to please some of the fans at Busch Stadium anyway. He sent a big contingent of family members home happy. Scherzer, who grew up 20 miles west of here in Chesterfield, Missouri, said he shortened his arm action to get to seven shutout innings with nine strikeouts against the Cardinals.

He had a secret weapon. He had sent a clubhouse attendant to the nearby Hill neighborhood of St. Louis for a regional specialty: toasted ravioli. Was it the delicious fried pasta or the mechanical fix that did it? Probably the latter.

"I knew, 'Look, we don't have to sit here and beat our heads in and watch video for hours. We know what's wrong. It's just simple. I know how to pitch. I'm not broken. Just go out there with a smile on your face, fix it and know you're going to have success,' " Scherzer said.

If Martinez pitches the way he did Sunday, he'll be the least of the Cardinals' worries. Even the home runs he gave up were on what he considered to be good pitches. He suspects the guys who hit them out, Clint Robinson and Danny Espinosa, were cheating on his fastball, so perhaps he can adjust next time by throwing them breaking pitches early in the count. He said he thinks he can separate the turmoil of his personal life from his job.

What is a bit troublesome for the Cardinals is their inability to hit good pitching and, more broadly, their inability to beat good teams. They now are 1-8 against teams with a winning record. The only thing keeping them afloat so far are the soft spots in their schedule. The Cardinals have played only three teams with winning records so far, the Pittsburgh Pirates, Chicago Cubs and Nationals. In those games, they have been outscored by a combined 42-19. Matheny said there are "too many positives" in those games to get dejected about the pattern.

"You've just to keep playing the game," he said.