PITTSBURGH | The Washington Nationals are all but certain to finish last in the National League East. After taking on the Pittsburgh Pirates, they realize how much worse it could be.
Ryan Zimmerman drove in four runs, Adam Dunn homered and Jason Marquis won his second in a row after previously going winless all season as the Nationals beat the Pirates 8-1 in a matchup of last-place clubs Sunday.
The Nationals outscored the Pirates 17-3 in the final two games of the three-game set for their first road series victory in 18 attempts since they won two of three against the Mets from May 10-12.
Washington did most of its damage against Pirates right-hander Charlie Morton (1-11), who gave up six runs and eight hits over 3 2-3 innings yet lowered his ERA to 9.66 because four runs were unearned. Morton began the game with a 10.03 ERA that was the third highest in major league history at this stage of a season for a pitcher with at least 10 decisions, according to STATS LLC.
Morton was 1-9 in 10 starts before going to Triple-A Indianapolis for three months. Since rejoining the Pirates, he has given up 14 runs, nine earned, and 17 hits in seven innings.
Marquis wasn't much better that Morton coming in with a 1-7 record and 8.13 ERA, but limited the Pirates to Pedro Alvarez's solo home run — his 11th — in the fourth while giving up six hits over six innings. He has been much better in his last four starts, giving up six runs in 24 innings after having a 20.52 ERA on April 18.
"That wasn't Jason Marquis; it was Jason Marquis but pitching hurt, trying to battle through," said Marquis, who had elbow surgery in May. "Unfortunately it didn't work out the way I wanted and I put my team in jeopardy with some losses. I feel like since I've come back, this is what they signed me for."
The right-hander had lost 10 in a row dating to last season before beating Florida 9-3 on Tuesday, but won his fourth straight against the Pirates. He is 6-1 in eight starts against them since 2008 and has beaten them 11 times in his career.
"He's had several outings now where this is the guy we thought we were going to get," manager Jim Riggleman said.
Washington scored an unearned run in the first resulting from Morton's throwing error on a pickoff attempt, then gave Marquis all the support he needed with a five-run fourth inning. Dunn started it with an opposite-field drive to left for his 350th career homer and his 34th this season.
"I've said it before, whatever I end up with will be special when I retire but, right now, I know it's just another solo," said Dunn, who trails NL leader Albert Pujols of St. Louis by one homer.
Is Dunn thinking about possibly winning the home run title?
"if it works out that way it would be pretty cool but, if it doesn't, that's not a goal that I set out through the year," he said.
First baseman Garrett Jones' error for misplaying Adam Kennedy's grounder led to Ian Desmond's RBI single and Zimmerman's two-run single, and manager John Russell lifted Morton.
"For the most part, I thought he (Morton) was better, but he's not where we'd like to get him," Russell said, citing Morton's increased velocity.
Morton called his early season results "frustrating," but said he's encouraged now because "I'm doing a better job of pitching."
Zimmerman and Dunn singled in runs in the sixth against right-hander Joe Martinez, who pitched three innings after being called up from Triple-A Indianapolis.
Washington's bullpen followed Marquis with three scoreless innings, two by Tyler Clippard and one by Drew Storen.
Notes: The Pirates unveiled a statue of Hall of Fame second baseman Bill Mazeroski in pregame ceremonies. ... Riggleman returned after serving a two-game suspension for his role in last week's brawl against Florida. ... Washington won five of six in a season series noteworthy for Stephen Strasburg's 14-strikeout debut on June 8. ... The Pirates' 91st loss, with 26 games remaining, was their seventh in nine games. ... Pittsburgh would trail Washington by 13½ games if the two were in the same division. ... Pittsburgh committed three errors. ... Pirates LF Jose Tabata had two hits despite being struck in the left hand by a Marquis pitch in the first.