The Washington Nationals had their bats working early, scoring six runs in the first five innings Tuesday as they beat the Pittsburgh Pirates on the road, 8-4.
Jayson Werth got things started in the first, scoring Trea Turner with an RBI single for his first of three hits in the game.
The Pirates got on the board when Josh Harrison launched a solo home run off Stephen Strasburg in the bottom half of that first inning.
In the top of the third, Ryan Zimmerman continued to make his case for the early lead in the NL MVP race with a two-run double.
Washington was able to push two more runs across in the fourth when Wilmer Difo left the yard for this first time this season and second time in his career.
The Nats jumped on top of Pirates starter John Kuhn once again in the fifth when Matt Wieters drove in Bryce Harper with a hard hit ball off the outfield wall.
Strasburg was pulled in the bottom of the seventh after allowing the first two baserunners to reach, and the bullpen made things interesting when Matt Albers and Oliver Perez let three inherited baserunners come around to score and make it a 6-4 game.
Luckily for the Nationals, Harper gave Koda Glover a four-run cushion for the final half inning when he crushed a two-run shot into the right field seats that nearly left the ballpark.
Nationals now 25-13.
Here’s how it happened:
• It only took two pitches into the ballgame for Trea Turner to get into scoring position.
After roping a double down the left field line off Pirates starter Chad Kuhl, Jayson Werth drove him in with an RBI single to center and put the Nationals up 1-0 in the first.
• The Pirates entered Tuesday’s contest with seven first-inning home runs on the year, their most in any inning. Stephen Strasburg, however, had yet to give up a long ball in the opening frame in 2017. One of those trends would have to give way and it was Strasburg, who gave up a solo homer to Josh Harrison and things were quickly tied back up.
• Anthony Rendon led off the top of the second with his seventh double of the season and moved to second on a Matt Wieters groundout, but Michael Taylor popped out on a broken-bat blooper to first and Wilmer Difo lined out to end the threat.
• Strasburg got the lineup going in the top of the third with a leadoff single. Werth followed with a single of his own two batters later and they both moved up a base when Bryce Harper guided a grounder to first.
Ryan Zimmerman stepped to the plate with two outs and smacked a ball on the outer half the other way for a two-run double and 3-1 lead.
• With how good the lineup has been going this season, it only makes sense for Michael Taylor to irrationally start hitting better than he ever has once Adam Eaton was lost for the year.
Entering Tuesday’s game, Taylor was hitting a stifling .333 in the 14 games since Eaton’s ACL tear. He continued swinging a hot bat in the fourth, hitting a one-out triple. Taylor would score when Difo hit his first home run of the year just over the center field wall, giving the Nats a 5-1 cushion.
• Kuhl entered the fifth with just 80 pitches, but a walk to Harper and infield single by Zimmerman prompted Pirates manager Clint Hurdle to pull him before he had could record an out in the inning. Daniel Hudson came in from the bullpen and got one out before Wieters hit a long single that hit the right-center field fence to bring home Harper and make it a 6-1 game.
• Chad Kuhl’s Line: 4.0 IP, 10 H, 6 R, 6 ER, 1 BB, 3 Ks, 1 HR, 89 P, 54 S, 3/2 GO/FO
• After giving up the home run and a double to John Jaso in the first, Strasburg settled in and retired the next nine hitters he faced before walking David Freese on a full count in the fourth. The base on balls wouldn’t faze the Nats’ righty, however, who went on to get through the fifth allowing just one other baserunner.
• Harrison struck again in the bottom of the sixth, leading off the inning with a double that Taylor nearly threw him out at second on. Nevertheless, Harrison’s efforts would go unrewarded as the Pirates went down 1-2-3 behind him.
• The Nats entered the seventh inning with every member of their lineup but Harper having notched a hit on the day, but he would quickly take care of that with a one-out single. Pirates reliever Johnny Barbato wouldn’t run into any trouble otherwise, getting through the sixth and seventh innings unscathed with three strikeouts to boot.
• Strasburg went seven innings in each of his five April starts, but has been unable to reach that plateau since the calendar turned. He made into into the seventh Tuesday, but after allowing a leadoff double to Josh Bell and walking Francisco Cervelli, Nats manager Dusty Baker was forced to pull his starter and bring in Matt Albers to get them out of the jam.
The first batter Albers faced was Jordy Mercer, who singled right in front of Werth in left to load the bases. That brought up pinch hitter Jose Osuna. He hit a grounder to Zimmerman at first, who attempted to turn a double play but threw the ball wide left of the bag at second and into left field to allow two runners to score.
Baker trotted back out to the mound after that, calling on Oliver Perez to take over with runners on the corners and still no outs. Facing left-handed hitter Adam Frazier, Perez threw a 95 mph sinker upstairs on the inner half but Frazer was able to muscle it up the middle for an RBI single to trim the Nats’ lead to 6-4.
Once again, Baker was forced to leave the dugout and call on his bullpen. This time, it was Blake Treinen who got the call.
In a role that he became so familiar with last season, the fireman forced Harrison to ground into a double play and struck out Andrew McCutchen swinging to get the Nats into the eighth with their lead still intact.
• Stephen Strasburg’s Line: 6.0 IP, 4 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 3 BB, 3 Ks, 108 P, 68 S, 8/2 GO/FO
• Did you forget Strasburg started that inning after all that? Yeah, me too.
• Neither team was able to push any runs across in the eighth. Wade LeBlanc got things done for the Bucs while Enny Romero took care of things in 1-2-3 fashion.
• Werth hit a one-out single in the top of the ninth for his third hit of the game, but Harper stole the spotlight with a laser of a home run to right that barely stayed fair and pushed the Nats’ lead back up to four.
• Baker had Koda Glover warming in the bullpen for the save situation, but decided not to sit him down after Harper’s homer and trotted him out to finish the game with a four-run lead. He ran into a little trouble handling the bottom of the Pirates’ order, giving up two two-out hits. He did emerge unscathed, however, converting his third save of the year and handing the Nationals a win to open their three-game series at PNC Park.