The Washington Nationals ended a three-game losing streak, avoiding a sweep by the Pittsburgh Pirates in the process, as Stephen Strasburg struck out 13 and the Nats pounded three home runs en route to a 4-2 victory before 15,381 at PNC Park.
Roger Bernadina and Adam LaRoche both homered in the sixth inning to give the Nats the lead, and Rick Ankiel added an insurance run in the top of the ninth.
The bullpen was dominant, as three pitchers threw three scoreless, hitless innings, shutting down any chance at a comeback from the Pirates.
Henry Rodriguez, who blew a save Tuesday night when he had a bout of wildness, got the job done in the ninth for his seventh save of the season.
Strasburg, though, was the man. In six innings he struck out 13, using his two- and four-seam fastball, curveball and change-up to dominate Pirates hitters. Strasburg faced the minimum through the first three innings, striking out seven consecutive batters in the process. He ran into some trouble in the fourth, however, when Andrew McCutchen singled home Jose Tabata. McCutchen was able to take an extra base on Bryce Harper’s ill-advised throw to the plate.
After a strikeout by Pedro Alvarez, Neil Walker singled to center to plate McCutchen and give the Pirates a 2-0 lead.
Strasburg got through the fifth and the first two outs of the sixth okay, but then walked the bases loaded with two down in the sixth. Pitching coach Steve McCatty came out to chat with Strasburg and it seems to help him focus, as he reared back and blew away Garrett Jones with a 96-MPH heater to get out of the jam.
The win puts the Nats a half-game ahead of Atlanta, in sole possession of first place in the N.L. East once again, with a 19-12 record.
THE GOOD: Strasburg. The Nats are 6-1 in his starts this season, and this latest outing puts his record at 3-0 with a 1.64 ERA with 51 strikeouts, tops in the N.L. after seven starts.
Adam LaRoche was 2-for-3 with a two-run home run and a walk. He just keeps producing.
THE BAD: Ian Desmond went 0-for-5.
THE UGLY: Jesus Flores went 0-for-4, lowering his season average to .206. But he did look good blocking Hot Rod’s sliders in the dirt instead of trying to backhand them.
THE STATS: 9 hits, 2 BBs, 3 Ks. 0-for-3 with RISP, 6 LOB, 1 GIDP. E: Harper (1), LaRoche (3).
NEXT GAME: Friday at 7:10 pm at Cincinnati. Gio Gonzalez (3-1, 1.72) faces Mike Leake (0-4, 5.97).