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Nationals 5-4 over Pirates: Nats knock Charlie Morton out early, win fourth straight

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The Washington Nationals scored five runs on four singles in the first two innings, knocked Pittsburgh Pirates' starter Charlie Morton out early and held on for a 5-4 win in the series opener in the nation's capital. Tanner Roark earned his 12th win.

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Andrew McWho? Top 5:

5. Quick Recap: Adam LaRoche hit an RBI grounder to center in Nationals Park and Bryce Harper lined a two-run single over Pittsburgh Pirates' second baseman Neil Walker as the Washington Nationals collected four hits, two walks and three earned runs off right-handed starter Charlie Morton in the bottom of the first inning of the series opener in the nation's capital.

3-0 Nats after one.

LaRoche and Nationals' catcher Wilson Ramos hit RBI singles to center off Morton in the bottom of the third with LaRoche driving Asdrubal Cabrera in and Ramos bringing Anthony Rendon around after the infielders singled and walked, respectively, to start the frame. 5-0 Nationals.

The Pirates scored three on Tanner Roark in the top of the fourth with Starlin Marte hitting a two-run home run out to left field in Nationals Park and Pedro Alvarez driving a run in with an RBI double. 5-3 Nats after three and a half.

Pedro Alvarez drove in a run with an RBI single off Rafael Soriano in the ninth, but that was as close as the Pirates would get. 5-4 Nats final.

4. The Myth of Row-Ark: After tonight's game, Tanner Roark will have faced eighteen of Major League Baseball's thirty teams, checking the Pittsburgh Pirates off his MLB to-do list in the series opener in the nation's capital.

Going into the matchup with the Bucs, Roark, 27, was coming off a strong start against the Braves last weekend in Turner Field. The Nats' right-hander gave up six hits, three walks and just one earned run in seven innings on the mound in an extra inning affair in which the Nationals prevailed, but he, obviously, received no decision.

"The ball was up, elevated. I wasn't hitting my spots. Like I've told you guys many times before, if the ball is up and you're not hitting your spots it's going to get hit hard..." -Tanner Roark on last start in Nats Park vs the Orioles

With a solid start in the Nats' only win of the weekend series, the Nationals' second-year starter bounced back from a rough one against Baltimore back on August 4th in the nation's capital in which his streak of five-straight seven-inning, one-run outings was snapped by the Orioles, who scored five runs on seven hits and knocked Roark out after just 6 ⅓ IP, handing him his seventh loss of the season, (11-7).

"The ball was up, elevated," Roark explained when to reporters after the loss to the O's. "I wasn't hitting my spots. Like I've told you guys many times before, if the ball is up and you're not hitting your spots it's going to get hit hard and that's what happened."

That outing left Roark (5-5) in 11 starts at home in Nationals Park this season, with a 2.40 ERA, a 3.56 FIP, 19 walks (2.40 BB/9) and 47 Ks (5.93 K/9) in 71 ⅓ IP over which he's held visiting hitters to a combined .242/.296/.345 line against.

His 12th start of the year in D.C. and first against the Pirates, started with a pop to short-center...

1st: Josh Harrison popped up to short-center and Denard Span went a long way across the outfield to make the catch. Pirates' rookie Gregory Polanco, 22, battled for nine pitches and walked with one down then stole second with Russell Martin up. Martin sent a fly ball to foul territory in right where Michael Taylor caught out no.2 of the opening frame. Neil Walker's fly to Taylor ended a relatively quick 22-pitch frame for Roark.

2nd: Starling Marte grounded back to Roark on the mound. A 2-2 change down and away to Travis Snider got a swinging K from the Pirates' left fielder. Ike Davis stepped in with two down and singled to left under a diving Ian Desmond to give Charlie Morton a breather. Pedro Alvarez K'd swinging at a diving 0-2 change to end a 23-pitch frame that left Roark at 45 total after two.

3rd: Charlie Morton K'd looking to start the Pirates' third. Josh Harrison grounded out to short. Gregory Polanco grounded out to third base. 12-pitch, 1-2-3 frame for Roark, 57 pitches total after three.

4th: Russell Martin sent a fly ball out to left to give Tanner Roark five straight outs. Neil Walker doubled to right on a 1-2 curve from Roark, and scored when Starlin Marte hit a two-run blast ten rows back into the left field seats. 5-3 game. Travis Snider walked in front of Ike Davis with one down. Davis sent a fly ball to Denard Span on the track in center for out no.2, but Pedro Alvarez drove Snider in with an RBI double to right-center that made it a 5-3 game. Jayson Nix's groundout to short ended a 25-pitch frame that left Roark at 82 pitches overall after four.

5th: Josh Harrison lined out to Michael Taylor to start the Pirates' fifth. Gregory Polanco gave Taylor more work. Two down. Russell Martin stepped in with two out and grounded out to Ian Desmond's backhand. 12-pitch 1-2-3 frame for Roark, 94 pitches overall after five.

6th: Neil Walker sent a fly to center for the first out of the sixth. Starling Marte took a 1-2 fastball for a called strike three. Travis Snider's single to right with two down, ended Roark's night 13 pitches into the sixth at 107 pitches overall...

Tanner Roark's Line: 5.2 IP, 5 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 2 BB, 4 Ks, 1 HR, 107 P, 68 S, 5/6 GO/FO.

3. Morton vs Washington: In a May 23rd start in PNC Park, 30-year-old Pittsburgh Pirates' righty Charlie Morton held the visiting Washington Nationals to five hits and one earned run in 5 ⅔ IP, notching his first win of the season after starting the 2014 campaign (0-6). Since then, the veteran starter went (4-5) with the Bucs 6-8 in his 14 starts, over which he put up a 3.86 ERA and a .233/.316/.355 line against.

Tonight's outing was Morton's 14th away from the Pirates' home this season.

In his previous thirteen road starts, the seven-year major leaguer was (2-7) with a 4.52 ERA in 79 ⅔ IP outside of Pittsburgh (vs 3-4, 2.58 ERA at home) with a 3.91 FIP, 28 walks (3.16 BB/9), 70 Ks (7.91 K/9) and a .242/.327/.380 line against (vs a .230/.325/.301 line in PNC).

Morton, an '02 Atlanta Braves' 3rd Round pick, who was traded to the Pirates  along with OF Gorkys Hernandez and LHP Jeff Locke in 2009 in return for Nate McLouth, was facing the Nationals for the sixth time in his career.

In the previous five outings, he was (2-2) with a 3.58 ERA, 11 walks (3.58 BB/9) and 13 Ks (4.23 K/9) in 27 ⅔ IP over which Nats' hitters put up a combined .277/.362/.455 line against him.

Tonight's start was his third in Nationals Park, where he was (1-0) with a 2.92 ERA and a .209/.277/.419 line against before taking the mound in the home-half of the first.

Denard Span reached on an infield single and stole second (SB no.24) with Asdrubal Cabrera up. Cabrera walked to put two on in front of Anthony Rendon, but Span was thrown out trying to steal third. Rendon lined a single to right to put two on with one out in front of Adam LaRoche, whose RBI single to center brought Cabrera around, 1-0.

Ian Desmond walked to load the bases with Bryce Harper due up and Harper singled over second to drive two runs in, 3-0 Nats after one. 31-pitch frame for Morton.

After a long first, Morton threw a quick, 11-pitch, 1-2-3 second.

Asdrubal Cabrera singled, Anthony Rendon walked and Adam LaRoche connected for his second RBI hit of the game, sending a grounder to the left side of second to bring Cabrera in and make it 4-0 Nationals.

Two outs later, Wilson Ramos hit another RBI single to center to make it a 5-0 game. 22-pitch third for Morton, 64 pitches overall after three.

That was it for the Pirates' starter...

Charlie Morton's Line: 3.0 IP, 7 H, 5 R, 5 ER, 3 BB, 3 Ks, 64 P, 37 S, 4/0 GO/FO.

2. Adam LaAugust: With a home run to left last night in Citi Field, Adam LaRoche, who went 1 for 3 in the Nationals' 4-1 win, was left with a .319/.429/.681 line, five doubles and four home runs in 13 games and 56 plate appearances so far in August, after a rough .159/.238/.227 month of July in which he hit three doubles and one home run in 24 games and 101 PAs.

On the year, in his 11th major league season, the 34-year-old first baseman had a .273/.375/.463 line with 18 doubles and 17 HRs in 432 PAs heading into tonight's game.

LaRoche's 17th HR of the season came on an 0-2 fastball from Mets' starter Dillon Gee. It was the fifth home run he's hit in an 0-2 count this season, and the 11th he's hit in a two-strike count:

"He got an 0-2 fastball and hit it the other way," Nats' skipper Matt Williams said after the win. "That's a great sign for Adam. If he's driving the ball the other way that means he's on the ball and swinging it well. So, big hit by him too."

Eight of LaRoche's home runs this season have been hit in Nationals Park, where he started this weekend's three-game set with a .309/.406/.489 line on the year heading into the Nats' 10-game homestand.

After two at bats tonight, LaRoche was 2 for 2 with two RBI singles as the Nationals jumped out to an early lead.

1. The Wrap-Up: Jeanmar Gomez took over for the Pirates in the bottom of the fourth, and gave up a one-out double to right by Denard Span and a two-out walk to Anthony Rendon, but stranded both runners when he struck Adam LaRoche out.

Ian Desmond reached on an infield single off Gomez in first at bat of the Nats' fifth and Bryce Harper poked a single to left on a 1-2 sinker outside from the Pirates' right-hander, but Wilson Ramos grounded into an odd 5-3 DP in the next AB and Michael Taylor K'd looking.

Jerry Blevins came on to face Ike Davis with a runner on first and two out in the top of the sixth. Gaby Sanches stepped in for Ike Davis and grounded into a force at second to end the frame. Still 5-3 Nationals.

Justin Wilson took over on the mound for the Pirates in the Nationals' sixth and threw a scoreless 15-pitch frame.

Drew Storen struck Pedro Alvarez out with a diving 1-2 change outside. Jordy Mercer bunted one right to Adam LaRoche a step in front of the first base bag. Josh Harrison popped to short end a quick, nine-pitch, 1-2-3 seventh.

Still 5-3 Nationals.

Pirates' lefty Tony Watson needed 13 pitches to retire the Nationals in order in the bottom of the seventh.

Tyler Clippard threw a 2-2 change by Gregor Blanco for the first out of the eighth. Russell Martin sent a fly ball out to Michael Taylor in right and Neil Walker grounded out to second to end a quick, 10-pitch frame.

John Axford threw a scoreless bottom of the eighth.

Pitch it Soriano! Pitch it, Soriano! Strike'em out, Soriano! Strike'em out, Soriano! Rafael Soriano came on in the ninth looking for save no.29 of 2014. Starling Marte singled on a grounder to center on a 1-2 slider. Travis Snider grounded weakly to first on a 2-2 two-seamer. Gaby Sanchez sent a long fly out to Michael Taylor in right field. Pedro Alvarez stepped in with a runner on third and two out and... singled to right. 5-4. Pinch runner Michael Taylor took third on a single to right by Chris Stewart, but Josh Harrison popped up behind home to end it. Ballgame. 5-4 final.

Work's done! Untuck that jersey, son!!

Nationals now 67-53