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Max Scherzer doesn't care how many batters he strikes out or how dominant he looks on the mound. He's more focused on progressing with each outing and picking up as many victories as possible.

The St. Louis Cardinals realized last month how effective he can be when he's in a groove.

Scherzer seeks a fourth consecutive solid start as the Washington Nationals continue their four-game series with the visiting Cardinals on Friday night.

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The 3.80 ERA seems a bit uncharacteristic for Scherzer (5-3), who hasn't finished with a mark that high since 2011 with Detroit. But his recent hot streak began May 11 against his former team when he fanned an MLB record-tying 20 in a 3-2 victory.

Scherzer tossed another quality start with 10 strikeouts May 17 but the Nationals (29-19) were shut out by the New York Mets, then he struck out eight while giving up two runs in eight innings of Sunday's 8-2 win over Miami.

The right-hander said he's getting more and more comfortable on the mound.

''I felt like I had good command of all the off-speed pitches,'' Scherzer said after beating the Marlins. ''That's what I'm most proud about. It gives you a lot of options because you have all of them working.

''I'm kind of getting in midseason form. Sometimes it takes a few starts. Every start I keep getting a little sharper.''

Scherzer was plenty sharp against the Cardinals (24-24) on May 1, fanning nine while allowing four hits in seven scoreless innings of a 6-1 win. He has a 2.70 ERA in five starts against St. Louis, which counters with the struggling Jaime Garcia as he looks to get on track.

Garcia (3-4, 3.59 ERA) was awful against Arizona on Sunday, allowing five runs and 10 hits in 2 1/3 innings of a 7-2 defeat. He gave up three runs and walked four while laboring through five innings of a loss to Colorado in his previous start May 17.

Something felt different even before he faced the Diamondbacks, though. He failed to complete three innings for just the third time in 126 starts, and it was his shortest outing since a two-inning stint at Houston on June 5, 2012.

''I didn't feel good warming up before the game,'' Garcia said. ''Coming out of the game in the third inning, you never want to do that. It's definitely a long time you have to think about it.

''I've got to figure out if there's something I need to do different between starts."

The left-hander stayed in the game much longer against the Nationals on April 30 but still wasn't very effective, giving up four runs in 6 1/3 innings of a 6-1 defeat. That dropped him to 4-2 with a 3.32 ERA in seven starts against Washington, which hopes Bryce Harper has put his struggles behind him.

Harper was mired in a 4-for-31 slump heading into Thursday's series opener, but he smacked a tying homer into the upper deck in the sixth for his first long ball since May 13. Danny Espinosa's seventh-inning homer was the difference in a 2-1 victory.

The Nationals pulled out the win while resting Daniel Murphy, who leads the majors with a .394 batting average and is hitting .450 in his last five.

St. Louis played without Matt Carpenter after he was placed on the paternity list prior to the game. Matt Adams left in the fifth with back stiffness, and his status for this contest is unclear.