Nationals edge Bucs in opener for fourth straight win

Harper, LaRoche both drive in pair of runs as Soriano holds on in ninth

Nationals edge Bucs in opener for fourth straight win

WASHINGTON -- Bryce Harper and Adam LaRoche drove in two runs apiece and helped the Nationals down the Pirates, 5-4, at Nationals Park on Friday night.

The Nationals have won four consecutive games, improved their record to 67-53, and remain six games ahead of the Braves in the National League East race. That same night, Atlanta won its game, 7-2, against the Athletics at Turner Field. However, the Nationals players don't think they have a comfortable lead.

"There is a lot of ball to play and a lot can happen, we've seen it happen," Nationals first baseman Adam LaRoche said. "So we go out every night, try to win. It doesn't happen, we try to do the same thing the next night."

Right-hander Charlie Morton started for Pittsburgh and the Nationals went to work on him in the first inning. With runners on first and second and one out, LaRoche singled to right-center field, scoring Asdrubal Cabrera to make it a 1-0 game.

After Ian Desmond walked to load the bases, Harper singled over the head of second baseman Neil Walker, scoring Anthony Rendon and LaRoche.

"I wasn't sure. Neil is pretty good over there. I'm just happy it fell and got those two RBIs, get that lead early and be able get that W," Harper said

Two innings later, LaRoche drove in his second run when he singled to left field, scoring Cabrera. Three batters later, Rendon scored the team's fifth run on a single by Wilson Ramos.

During the month of August, LaRoche has been swinging a hot bat, going 17-for-52 (.326) with four home runs and nine RBIs. It helps that he is hitting the ball the other way. That's when one realizes that LaRoche is going well at the plate.

With a month and a half to go in the regular season, the Nationals need him to be clutch.

"[The bat is] better. No question, it's better," LaRoche said. "I hit those two balls tonight. I hit them good. I found the right spot. I feel two or three weeks ago, it was right at somebody and a potential double play ball. That's how this game goes. It kind of comes in streaks. I'm doing pretty good right now."

As for Morton, he lasted three innings and allowed the five runs on seven hits.

"We didn't see a lot of consistency in the sink, or break in the breaking ball. The misfires ... even in the zone ... he got behind and was not able to recover. It just wasn't there for him," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said about Morton.

But Pittsburgh made it a game in the fourth inning off right-hander Tanner Roark. After Walker led off with a double, Starling Marte homered over the left-field wall to make it 5-2. Three batters later, with a runner on first, Pedro Alvarez doubled to right-center field, scoring Travis Snider.

"He was a little off on his command tonight, the ball was up in the strike zone a little bit," Nationals manager Matt Williams said. "Marte hit a slider for the homer and the ball just kind of elevated. But he battled. He got through the innings he needed to get through. He pitched well."

Roark lasted 5 2/3 innings, allowed three runs on five hits and picked up his 12th victory, which is tied for the team lead with right-hander Doug Fister.

"I felt good. I was trying to be too fine with my slider and my curveball. Everything else, I felt my fastball was good. I had good life on it, keeping it down," Roark said. "The changeup was good. When I was getting 1-2, 0-2, I would try to be too fine."

The Nationals needed four relievers -- Jerry Blevins, Drew Storen, Tyler Clippard and Rafael Soriano -- to keep the lead the rest of the way. Soriano, who picked up his 28th save of the season, was shaky for the second straight game. With two outs, Alvarez drove in his second run of the game by hitting a single to right field, scoring Marte.

After Chris Stewart, representing the go-ahead run, singled to right field to put runners on first and third, Josh Harrison came to the plate and popped up to Ramos to end the game.

"That's three games in a row for Soriano. He got through it tonight. We'll see how he feels tomorrow," Williams said.

Bill Ladson is a reporter for and writes an MLBlog, All Nats All the time. He also could be found on Twitter @WashingNats. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.