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Bullpen comes through as Nationals hold off Pirates

Bullpen comes through as Nationals hold off Pirates

PITTSBURGH -- Bryce Harper belted his 13th home run, Ryan Zimmerman smacked a two-run double to add to his major league-leading RBI total and the Washington Nationals held off the struggling Pittsburgh Pirates 8-4 on Tuesday night.

Harper's laser to the last row of seats in right field in the ninth gave the 24-year-old star a home run in every ballpark in the National League. He finished with two hits to move ahead of Zimmerman for the major league-lead in batting average (.388).

Zimmerman had two hits, including a double in third inning that gave him 38 RBIs on the season. Jayson Werth added three hits and is batting .457 (16 for 35) in his last nine games.

Stephen Strasburg (4-1) allowed three runs in six-plus innings, walking one and striking out three on a night he didn't have his best stuff.

Josh Harrison had two hits for the Pirates, including his sixth home run of the season, and also avoided a tag at second base with an acrobatic slide in the sixth. Chad Kuhl (1-4) remained winless since the first week of the season.

The Nationals are in the process of running away with the NL East not even a quarter of the way into the season thanks to the best offense in baseball. The lineup wasted little time getting to Kuhl, who hasn't won since beating Atlanta six weeks ago.

Trea Turner led off with a double and scored on Werth's RBI single. Strasburg led off the third with a single, moved to second on a single by Werth, and Zimmerman followed one batter later with a double that put the Nationals in front 4-1. Michael Taylor tripled with one out in the fourth, and Wilmer Difo, who came in batting just .196, sent Kuhl's pitch to the seats for his first of the season to make it 6-1. Kuhl's ERA ballooned to 6.69 in eight starts.

Strasburg never appeared to get settled. Harrison turned an 89 mph slider into a moonshot to the left field bleachers in the first and Pittsburgh made solid contact throughout Strasburg's 108-pitch outing. He exited after allowing a leadoff double to Josh Bell and walking Francisco Cervelli in the seventh.

Enter Washington's bullpen, which began the day with a 5.53 ERA, third worst in the majors. Matt Albers and Oliver Perez came on and didn't retire any of the three combined batters they faced, thanks in part to a throwing-error by Zimmerman. Pittsburgh closed within two on Adam Frazier's RBI single before Blake Treinen -- who began the season as the closer before being demoted -- got Harrison to hit into a double play, then struck out Andrew McCutchen to end the threat.

The strikeout dropped McCutchen's batting average to .206. The five-time All-Star was removed as part of a double switch in the eighth.

Harper drilled Wade LeBlanc's pitch with one on in the ninth to give the Nationals some breathing room.

MORE NATIONALS: Now is the time for the Washington Nationals to address bullpen issues

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Nationals beat Braves, snap losing skid behind Stephen Strasburg's strong start

Nationals beat Braves, snap losing skid behind Stephen Strasburg's strong start

ATLANTA (AP) -- Stephen Strasburg struck out a season-high 11 and kept up his recent domination of the Atlanta Braves, leading Washington to a 3-2 win Sunday that stopped the Nationals' four-game losing streak.

Strasburg (5-1) allowed five hits in 7 2/3 innings, beating Atlanta for the second time this season and improving to 7-1 in his last nine starts against the Braves. He is 10-8 overall against Atlanta.

He reached double digits in strikeouts for the second time this season after fanning 10 Braves on April 20.

Strasburg faded in the eighth, when Dansby Swanson hit a two-run double. Koda Glover struck out Nick Markakis to end the inning and finished the six-hitter for his third save.

Daniel Murphy hit a second-inning homer off Jaime Garcia (1-3) and the Nationals added two unearned runs in the third.

Matt Adams was 0 for 4 with three strikeouts and hit into a ninth-inning double play in his debut for Atlanta, a day after he was acquired from St. Louis. Matt Kemp led off the ninth, and Adams hit a line drive that was caught by Ryan Zimmerman, who stepped on first base.

Garcia allowed three runs -- one earned -- and seven hits in eight innings with no walks.

Washington took a 3-0 lead in the third following fielding errors by Markakis in right and Garcia. Bryce Harper had a run-scoring single.

TRAINER'S ROOM

Nationals: 3B Anthony Rendon and C Matt Wieters were given days off from the starting lineup. Rendon entered at third base in the eighth.

Braves: RHP Kris Medlen allowed one hits in six scoreless innings Saturday in his first start for Class A Florida. He missed most of 2016 with shoulder problems after his second Tommy John surgery. "That would be a real nice piece to have," Braves manager Brian Snitker said. Medlen pitched for Kansas City in 2015-16 and his last season with Atlanta was in 2013, when he was 15-12 with a 3.11 ERA.

UP NEXT

Nationals: Following an off day, RHP Jacob Turner (2-2) is expected to start when the Nationals will open a series against Seattle on Tuesday.

Braves: RHP Mike Foltynewicz (2-4) will take a 0-3 career record in three starts against Pittsburgh into Monday night's series opener against the Pirates.

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2017 MLB Power Rankings: As Bryce Harper goes, so do the Nationals

2017 MLB Power Rankings: As Bryce Harper goes, so do the Nationals

A week ago, the Nationals were looking unstoppable. Bryce Harper was hitting walkoff dingers left and right, there were multiple winning streaks, and the bullpen was only sorta bad. 

2017 MLB POWER RANKINGS

A week's worth of games later - against the Braves, Pirates and Phillies, no less - and the Nats don't look nearly as stainless. Harper's hitting under .200 since his Mother's Day walkoff, the team lost 5 of 6, and the bullpen turned back into a pumpkin. Because of that, there's a new team at the top of the Power Rankings this week. Who is it? To the rankings! 

30. MIAMI MARLINS

2017 Record: 15-28
Previous Ranking: 24
Last 10 Games: 2-8
Notable Performance: Dee Gordon (.318/.400/.364 last week)

Stanton hasn't homered in over two weeks, a stretch of 12 games. After going 2-8 over the last 10, including that weird Dodgers game, the Marlins have seen better weeks.  

29. SAN DIEGO PADRES

2017 Record: 16-30
Previous Ranking: 29
Last 10 Games: 3-7
Notable Performance: Brad Hand (.300/.500/.600 last week)

Wil Myers' underwhelming season continues. The outfielder is hitting .150 over the last week, and only .219 over the last month. The Padres best position player is only worth .6 bWAR, and that's 5th-best on the team.

28. PHILADELPHIA PHILLIES

2017 Record: 15-26
Previous Ranking: 23
Last 10 Games: 2-8
Notable Performance: Daniel Nava (.429/.429/.571 last week)

They ran into Texas at exactly the wrong time. Getting starts that are consistently like Aaron Nola's last one will be huge for his development this season. 

27. KANSAS CITY ROYALS

2017 Record: 18-25
Previous Ranking: 27
Last 10 Games: 6-4
Notable Performance: Lorenzo Cain (.087/.125/.087 last week)

They're starting to play better, but upcomming series with the Yankees and Indians aren't making life any easier for KC. Jason Vargas (?!) has been their most valuable player this year (2.0 bWAR). 

26. ATLANTA BRAVES

2017 Record: 18-23
Previous Ranking: 30
Last 10 Games: 7-3
Notable Performance: Matt Kemp (.375/.423/.708 last week)

Losing Freeman for three months because of some dumb unspoken beef is just a testament to how stupid unwritten baseball rules are. The silver lining to this year, though, is that the Braves are going to fleece some team for Matt Kemp in July. 

SEE THE REST OF THE RANKINGS HERE