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Washington Nationals secure four-game sweep of Pittsburgh Pirates with 3-1 victory

Jeremy Hellickson was excellent, both Trea Turner and Ryan Zimmerman homered, and the bullpen held on to get the Nats back to the .500 mark.

Photo used with permission of rights holder.

Following consecutive offensive outbursts of 9+ runs, the Washington Nationals relied on their pitching staff to lead them to a 3-1 win over the Pittsburgh Pirates on Thursday afternoon.

Jeremy Hellickson posted his first scoreless outing of the season and Sean Doolittle locked down a five-out save to clinch a sweep of the Pirates and hand Washington its fifth straight win.

May couldn’t have come at a better time for the Washington Nationals. Coming off an 11-16 April that marked the Nats’ lowest winning percentage for a calendar month since 2013, Washington needed a spark to get back in the NL East race.

Three wins and a +16 run differential later, the Nats are back up to .500 for the first time in nearly two weeks. The Pirates, who entered the series holding a slim lead for the top spot in the NL Central, have fallen all the way down to fourth in the highly competitive division.

Hellickson cruised through five innings of work and sat at just 61 pitches with two outs in the sixth when Dave Martinez signaled to the bullpen for Sammy Solis to come into the game. The Nats’ starter has allowed hitters to put together a 1.911 OPS against him the third time through the order, and Martinez was taking no chances with game locked in a scoreless tie.

Jeremy Hellickson’s Line: 5.2 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 4 Ks, 61 P, 44 S, 8/5 GO/FO

The Nats’ bats woke up in the bottom half of the inning. Wilmer Difo led off the frame with a single and Trea Turner brought him around to score on a line-drive homer into the left field seats. Two batters later, Ryan Zimmerman broke out of a 1-14 slump with his fifth long ball of the season to knock Pirates starter Trevor Williams out of the game and put the Nats ahead 3-0.

Trevor Williams’ Line: 5.2 IP, 4 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 1 BB, 3 Ks, 90 P, 53 S, 9/5 GO/FO

Brandon Kintzler worked around a two-out single for a clean seventh, but Ryan Madson ran into trouble the following inning. A hit-by-pitch, single and Howie Kendrick fielding error loaded the bases for Gregory Polanco. Martinez opted to bring his closer in early for the lefty-lefty matchup with just one out in the inning.

Although Polanco drove in a run with a groundball that was nearly turned into a double play, Doolittle escaped the jam allowing limited damage. He came back on for the ninth and turned in a clean 1-2-3 frame for his sixth save of the season.

The Nationals wrap up their home stand with a three-game slate against the Philadelphia Phillies. The Phils are one of three division rivals who sit between the Nats and the top spot of the NL East. As if that doesn’t add enough intrigue, the series finale features a pitching matchup between former Cy Young winners Max Scherzer and Jake Arrieta.

Nationals now 16-16.