PITTSBURGH -- After right-hander Blake Treinen put out a fire in the seventh inning, Bryce Harper scorched another home run to put the game away. Harper's 13th home run of the season eased a potentially stressful situation for the Nationals' bullpen and sealed an 8-4 win over the Pirates on Tuesday night at PNC Park.
"We're still in the process of trying to figure it out and get it together, but in the meantime, our offense is doing the job," Nationals manager Dusty Baker said. "That was a huge home run that Harp hit, because that made a two-run game into a four-run game, and as you see, they could have had the tying runs on base had he not hit that."
With a runner on first base in the ninth, Wade LeBlanc's fastball came in at 87.2 mph and left Harper's bat at 112.6 mph, according to Statcast™. The ball traveled on a line into the back row of the right-field bleachers to give the Nats a four-run lead. It was Harper's hardest-hit home run off a left-hander in the Statcast™ era and his fourth-hardest homer against any pitcher.
Backed by plenty of early support from the Nats' lineup, Stephen Strasburg held the Pirates to three runs on four hits over six innings. Ryan Zimmerman continued his torrid season at the plate, lining a two-out double to right field that gave the Nats a two-run lead in the third. After Michael Taylor tripled to right in the fourth, Wilmer Difo ripped his first home run of the season into the center-field seats. Matt Wieters added an RBI single in the fifth.
Right-hander Chad Kuhl struggled to contain the Nationals' potent lineup, allowing six runs on 10 hits over four innings. Before the Pirates got into the Nats' bullpen, Josh Harrison was responsible for most of their offense against Strasburg. Harrison had two of the Bucs' three hits off Strasburg, including a solo homer to left in the first inning and a sixth-inning double made possible by an acrobatic slide, stop and jump to the bag. The Pirates rallied for three runs in the seventh before Treinen shut them down, and they put two on in the ninth, when Koda Glover struck out Harrison to end the game.
"The guys are going up there fighting. We stretched out that [seventh] inning," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. "We were able to follow through with some things. We just keep playing the game. You've got to keep playing the game up here. … The effort was out there. The execution wasn't what we needed."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED Three then four: With one out in the fourth, Taylor hit a line drive to right field. John Jaso slipped while trying to change directions, and Taylor wheeled around to third base. Difo, getting a start at second base while Daniel Murphy rested, immediately one-upped his teammate. Difo crushed a 2-1 changeup to center for his second home run in the Majors. The pitch came in at 89.7 mph and left Difo's bat at 103.2 mph, according to Statcast™, before landing a projected 410 feet away.
"Bad location. Bad movement," Kuhl said of the pitch. "Bad."
Rally killer: With the Nats on the brink of another late-game meltdown in the seventh, Baker went to his bullpen for the third time and called upon Treinen. Strasburg, Matt Albers and Oliver Perez had failed to record an out as the Bucs put up three runs, so Treinen was left with two on and a two-run lead to protect. Treinen quickly got Harrison to ground into a double play, then struck out Andrew McCutchen to escape unscathed. More >
"Maybe a little bit, but it felt like it was coming out hard and coming out smooth. Throughout the course of the game, being aggressive, there's definitely pitches I overthrow. But for the most part, they were just coming out hot."-- Kuhl, who hit 99.5 mph with his fastball, on whether he was overthrowing
UPON FURTHER REVIEW
After hitting a line drive to center field, Harrison rounded first and set his sights on second base. Taylor's throw beat Harrison to the bag, but Harrison -- ever the elusive baserunner -- stopped his slide short, hopped up and jumped over Difo's tag to safely reach second. The Nationals challenged the call, but after a one-minute and 37-second review, crew chief Mike Everitt indicated the call would stand. More >
WHAT'S NEXT Nationals: Right-handerJacob Turner gets the ball Wednesday in the second game of the series starting at 7:05 p.m. ET. In seven appearances, including one start, spanning 16 1/3 innings, Turner is 2-1 with a 3.31 ERA.
Pirates: Right-hander Gerrit Cole will take the mound Wednesday. Cole has pitched seven innings in three of his last four starts, but the Bucs have won only one of those games. Cole has a 2.92 ERA in four career starts against the Nationals.