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Washington Nationals’ lineup for 2nd of 3 with the Pittsburgh Pirates in PNC Park...

Davey Martinez’s Nationals try to even things up in the middle game of the series with the Pirates in PNC Park.

Washington Nationals v Pittsburgh Pirates Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

A 6-1 deficit was too much for the Washington Nationals to overcome last night, in what ended up a 6-3 loss to the Pittsburgh Pirates in the series opener in PNC Park. Down by three runs after one, and five after two, the Nationals got home runs from Juan Soto and Bryce Harper in the fifth and sixth innings, respectively, to make it a three-run game, and they put two on in the ninth against Bucs’ closer and former Nat Felipe Vazquez, née Rivero, bringing the tying run to the plate before Mark Reynolds grounded into a 6-4-3 to end the threat and the game.

“Heck, I’m proud of the boys,” Davey Martinez told reporters after the loss.

“I mean, they played hard. We’re down [6-1] and you see Adam Eaton diving for balls out in the outfield, that shows me something.”

Harper’s homer, his 22nd this season, was his second in nine games in July after he hit two in the entire month of May. Martinez said he liked what he saw in the 24-year-old slugger’s swing.

“He’s had some good swings as of late, taking his walks, just missed the fly ball to center, just missed that one, so he’s starting to come around and be the Harper that we know he can be, and I think he’s going to get better.

“He’s working hard with [hitting coach Kevin Long], and it’s just a matter of time before he starts squaring all those balls up.”

Harper is 6 for 29 with 11 walks and 10 Ks in 40 PAs so far this month.

Soto’s home run was his 9th of 2018. He also had some issues with home plate umpire Gabe Morales, who declined a request for time from the 19-year-old outfielder during an at bat in the top of the seventh, allowing Pirates’ righty Richard Rodriguez to throw a strike with Soto standing outside the batter’s box. He struck out later in the at bat and let Morales know it wasn’t appreciated.

“He’s a young kid and he’s got a good eye,” Martinez said when asked about the sequence.

“That’s all I can say. That was unfortunate. He thought he called time out, and he didn’t get it by Gabe so the guy threw a strike. I told him, I said, hey you’ve got to make sure you put your hand up and stay in the box, because sometimes they won’t give it to you, and the guy did kind of get on the mound and try to quick-pitch him, but it’s part of it.”

In the end, Harper and Soto’s efforts on offense weren’t enough as the Pirates cruised to a win in the first of three in PNC, and in spite of their struggles this season, Martinez said he knows the offensive talent Pittsburgh has assembled on their roster in nothing to overlook.

“They’re always dangerous,” he said. “They’ve got pretty good players, so we’ve got to make our pitches, and if we do that and we stay in the game, our lineup is pretty explosive. So we’re going to score some runs, so our starting pitching has got to keep us in the game.”

It’s Jeremy Hellickson’s turn to try tonight.