"I think that he's aggressive," Nationals manager Matt Williams said. "He throws strikes down in the zone, which leads to a lot of swings on the slider down out of the zone, but it starts with the fastball."
The Nationals jumped all over Pittsburgh starter A.J. Burnett early, providing Ross with three runs of support on eight hits through the first three innings as Washington snapped the Bucs' win streak at eight games. Burnett allowed 14 hits, a new career high, but limited the damage to four runs (three earned) through 6 2/3 innings. He was also boosted by a leaping no-look grab by Michael Taylor that robbed Josh Harrison of extra bases and stranded Gregory Polanco on second base to end the fifth inning.
"You just don't quit, man. You can't give up," said Burnett, who credited the Nationals' aggressive approach with piling up the hits. "They got a lot of first- and second-pitch hits. They didn't want to get the offspeed [stuff], so they stuck with it. And I kept attacking, so it figured to be a high-hit game."
Washington had several opportunities to expand its lead, which sat at two for most of the game. The Nats were 4-for-17 with runners in scoring position, and 0-for-2 with the bases loaded.
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED Ross is boss: Ross' future in the Nats' rotation is uncertain with Stephen Strasburg's return from the disabled list on the horizon, but he made quite the case to stick around. His slider was untouchable, using it time and again to help record the 11 K's in the third start of his career. In his 20 1/3 Major League innings, Ross has struck out 23 and walked two. He received a standing ovation after being pulled with one out in the eighth inning.
"I've always thought of myself as being good enough to be up here," Ross said. "I guess that's a big part of being confident on the mound -- thinking I belong. I don't think I could have imagined it going so well so early." More >
Early tipoff that A.J. was off: It did not take long to realize this was not going to be Burnett's night. In his previous start, he had faced 31 batters in nine innings and had a three-ball count on only one of them. He got into a three-ball count to three of the first four Nationals he faced, setting the sour note for the evening.
"I was trying to get fatigued, to be honest with you," Burnett said. "I was strong from the get-go. You could tell early how much the ball was moving, and I didn't want it to move that much." More >
The good and the bad: Eleven of the first 16 Nationals batters reached base safely off Burnett (10 hits and one walk), but the Nats were only able to cash in three runs from the baserunners. Washington put up two in the first inning and another in the third, but batted with the bases loaded in the second and fourth innings and was unable to expand its lead. Every Nats starter -- including Ross -- in a lineup that included just four members of the expected Opening Day starting lineup had at least one hit off Burnett.
"That made me feel excited because I get confident," said Wilson Ramos, who was 2-for-4 with a pair of RBIs. "I need that confidence -- 0-for-3 last night. Today, I come in with two RBIs, a double and a single. That made me feel confident to come back tomorrow and try to do the same."
"He's got that leadership quality. I feel like he wants the ball even though he's young like that. He goes right at guys. He kind of did the same thing to me on the golf course. It wasn't good." -- first baseman Tyler Moore, on Ross
"He definitely got some big pitches and got out of some big innings and kept us in the game. What more can you ask of a starter?" -- Pirates shortstop Jordy Mercer, on Burnett
SOUND SMART WITH YOUR FRIENDS
Burnett struck out seven for a career total of 2,451, passing Andy Pettitte (2,448) for 37th all time while coming within three of also whiffing by Sam McDowell (2,453). With 81 punchouts, Burnett this season has already gone by Sandy Koufax, Kevin Brown, Dennis Eckersley, Luis Tiant, Jamie Moyer and Pettitte.
POLANCO MAKES EARLY EXIT
Right fielder Polanco departed the game in the seventh after being shaken up crashing face-first into the wall attempting to catch a two-out drive by Danny Espinosa that went for a run-scoring triple. After being checked on by assistant trainer Ben Potenziano, Polanco at first appeared to be set to remain in the game, but caught up to the trainer and the two walked off the field together. Pirates manager Clint Hurdle later attributed the hesitancy to a miscommunication, saying that Polanco right away had been told he'd be removed from the game -- for precautionary reasons and as part of a double-switch.
WHAT'S NEXT Pirates:Francisco Liriano, who took an opponents' average of .194 into his May 29 start and has kept pushing it lower each of his four starts since, will try to protect his MLB-best .176 mark when he faces Washington at 4:05 p.m. ET at Nationals Park on Saturday. Liriano's only prior appearance at the yard resulted in a two-hit shutout through 7 2/3 innings on July 24, 2013.
Nationals:Max Scherzer will start for the first time since he threw a one-hit shutout in Milwaukee on June 14. The Washington ace has a 1.93 ERA on the year and has pitched seven-plus innings in 10 of his 13 starts.
Jacob Emert is an associate reporter for MLB.com.
Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog Change for a Nickel. He can also be found on Twitter @Tom_Singer and on his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.