By Adam Berry and John McGonigal
MLB.com |@adamdberry |
PITTSBURGH -- After dropping back-to-back games, the Nationals rebounded in a big way Saturday night at PNC Park, piling up 14 hits as they beat the Pirates, 9-3.
Nationals center fielder Michael Taylor led the way, going 4-for-5 with a two-run homer, three RBIs and a stolen base atop Washington's lineup. Yunel Escobar added three hits and Ian Desmond went deep for the third time in as many games. Aside from Anthony Rendon, everyone in Washington's starting lineup recorded at least one hit, and Rendon lifted a sacrifice fly in his return from the disabled list.
"Balls down the middle, big league hitters are going to hit 'em hard," Pirates starter A.J. Burnett said. "Made some good pitches but then left some middle. That's what happens."
Much of the Nationals' success came at the expense of Burnett, who struck out eight but allowed five runs on 11 hits. After a first half that led to his first All-Star nod, he has given up 22 hits and 11 earned runs over 11 2/3 innings in two second-half starts.
"You've got to keep the ball in your lanes, on the corners," the veteran righty said. "Too many balls over the middle, especially to left-handed hitters."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED Nobody's home: The Pirates essentially stood by and watched as the Nats scored their first run in the second inning. Desmond singled, hustled to third on a hit by Jose Lobaton and scored on a wild pitch. The pitch from Burnett bounced off catcher Francisco Cervelli, who scrambled to recover the ball. But Burnett didn't cover the plate and Desmond easily scored.
Just missed: With two outs in the fourth, Nationals pitcher Gio Gonzalez hit a ground ball to Burnett that could have ended the frame without any runs. Unfortunately for Burnett, the ball bounced off his glove, Gonzalez reached first safely -- scoring Escobar from third -- and allowing the Nationals to later push across another run via a Taylor single.
Hit parade: The Pirates made things interesting in the sixth, rallying for three runs on three singles, an error and a hit batter. Pedro Alvarez came off the bench to start the inning with a single to center field and came around to score on Starling Marte's base hit to right.
"We were up there battling all game. We were able to get something going," Alvarez said. "We did a pretty good job that inning of putting the pressure on him. If you keep battling throughout the game, innings like that happen."
Desmond does it again: For the third night in a row, Desmond clocked a home run. In the seventh, the 29-year-old drove an 81-mph changeup from Deolis Guerra into the left-field seats. Desmond had back-to-back-to-back home run games before (June 19-21, 2013).
"I think it's the Ian of old. I'm happy to see him swinging it right now," Taylor said.
"That I'm a human being. You expect me to go out and do what I did in the first half, you're nuts. I'm going to do everything I can, but that's ridiculous numbers." -- Burnett, on the takeaway from his first two second-half starts
"That's the same Ian Desmond I've known since high school -- a superstar stud. One of the best shortstops in the league. It's not a surprise to anyone, at least not me." -- Gonzalez, on Desmond's recent performance
SOUND SMART WITH YOUR FRIENDS
The Nationals entered the game with a Major League-worst .202 batting average in the second half. Suffice it to say that number will tick up quickly after a combined 14-for-38 (.368) performance Saturday.
Washington improved to 6-0 since 2012 in Gonzalez's starts against Pittsburgh. More >
WHAT'S NEXT Nationals: Washington rookie right-hander Joe Ross will make his fifth career start as he caps a four-game series Sunday at 1:35 p.m. ET on Sunday at PNC Park. The 22-year-old faced the Pirates on June 19, allowing just one run and six hits, and striking out 11. He'll be looking to lead the Nats to a split of the four-game set.
Pirates: With Pittsburgh seeking a series victory, ace Gerrit Cole will close out this four-game series Sunday at PNC Park. The All-Star righty is 8-2 with a 2.25 ERA over his past 11 starts and has been charged with two earned runs or fewer in 15 of his first 19 outings this season. Cole, the Major League leader in wins, will be seeking his 14th victory of the year.
Adam Berry is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @adamdberry. John McGonigal is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.