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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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Why Nationals' Max Scherzer picked college over pros — at first

Why Nationals' Max Scherzer picked college over pros — at first

When Max Scherzer was a teenager, he didn't know that one day he'd actually become a two-time Cy Young Award winner. He had no guarantee he'd make it to the majors, much less play in five consecutive MLB All-Star games. 

All he knew was that he had the option to go pro as a kid or go to college, and back then, the Nationals' ace needed a contingency plan in case baseball didn't work out. Fortunately for Scherzer, it did, but he doesn't regret going to college at the University of Missouri, telling Santana Moss on CSN's "Route 89" going to school was a no-brainer.

"It was actually a really easy decision," Scherzer told Moss. "When you get drafted out of high school, you're going to be going into the minor leagues, and that can take three to five or six years — multiple years — in the minor leagues, and you're forfeiting your right to further your education."

Scherzer was drafted in the 43rd round by the St. Louis Cardinals in 2003, but he opted to play for Mizzou for three years, which turned out to be a great decision. The Arizona Diamondbacks then drafted him in 2006 in the first round as the 11th overall pick. 

"A lot of times when you sign out of high school, you don't make it to the major leagues," Scherzer continued. "So I realize that your education — that's your safety net.

"You need to further your education in college, and if you do get drafted out of college, you're in a much better position to try to chase your dreams because if it doesn't work out, you still have one year left of school and that's much easier to obtain rather than try to go through four years when you're not coming out of high school."

MORE NATIONALS: Stephen Strasburg returns to the mound

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Nationals offense provides no support in Strasburg's return

Nationals offense provides no support in Strasburg's return

SAN DIEGO -- Yangervis Solarte hit a two-run home run off Stephen Strasburg in the first inning of the right-hander's first start in almost a month and the San Diego Padres beat the Washington Nationals 3-1 Saturday night.

Strasburg (10-4) retired the first two batters he faced before allowing a single to Jose Pirela and then the homer to the switch-hitting Solarte, who drove a 96-mph fastball to right for his 13th.

Strasburg then settled down against his hometown team, retiring 10 straight batters and 13 of 14. He went six innings, allowing two runs and four hits while striking out eight and walking one.

He hadn't pitched since July 23, when he went only two innings at Arizona. He went on the disabled list with an elbow nerve impingement.

Strasburg pitched at West Hills High in suburban Santee and then at San Diego State for coach Tony Gwynn before going to the Nationals with the No. 1 pick overall in the 2009 draft.

While Strasburg pitched well, the Nationals had only three hits.

San Diego's Travis Wood (2-1) also settled down after laboring through the first inning, when he threw 35 pitches but didn't allow a run. He was unscathed until the fifth, when he allowed a one-out single to Jose Lobaton and a two-out double to Adrian Sanchez. The run was unearned because of Woods' throwing error on Strasburg's sacrifice bunt that advanced Lobaton.

Wood allowed just the unearned run on three hits in seven innings, with two strikeouts and two walks.

Brad Hand pitched the ninth for his 11th save.