- The Washington Times - Monday, August 3, 2009

PITTSBURGH (AP) — Josh Willingham is healthy and feeling good. He continued his hot streak Sunday.

Willingham had a two-run homer as part of a three-run seventh inning and the Washington Nationals rallied for a 5-3 win over the Pittsburgh Pirates.

After getting two hits, scoring two runs, and driving in three, Willingham is hitting .331 with 16 homers and 40 RBIs in his past 66 games.

“I’ve had good stretches before, and I’ve had some bad stretches… this is probably one of the better ones I’ve had,” Willingham said. “I had a good one in ‘06 and a good one in ‘07.

“I can’t really explain it… I’m trying to just simplify everything, get a good pitch to hit and just hit it. I’m trying not to think about it too much. I think a lot of times you can get yourself in trouble if you’re trying to think about it too much… It’s just, get in there, see it and hit it.”

Ryan Zimmerman had two hits and two runs, Alberto Gonzalez had two RBIs and Mike MacDougal earned his seventh save in eight opportunities for the Nationals, who snapped a four-game losing streak.

Ronny Cedeno and Delwyn Young homered to provide the offense for Pittsburgh, which has lost six of eight.

Willingham’s homer, to left after Zimmerman led off the inning with a single, was his first since hitting two grand slams in Milwaukee on Monday. He has scored at least a run in six of his past seven games and has 11 RBIs in that time span.

“The pitch was supposed to be down and away, and it was down and in,” Pirates starter Paul Maholm said. “It was a mistake, and he’s a guy who’s been hot. That’s the guy you don’t want to beat you.”

Willingham, who has 17 home runs this season and 16 since May 5, also drove in Zimmerman in the eighth with a double off of Jesse Chavez.

“He’s been real good just about all year,” Nationals interim manager Jim Riggleman said. “He really had a couple huge hits for us today, just like he did in Milwaukee.”

One out after Willingham’s homer, Ronnie Belliard and Gonzalez hit consecutive ground-rule doubles to make it 4-2.

The sequence ruined what had been a strong outing for Maholm (6-6), who faced only two more than the minimum through six. He allowed three of his four runs and four of his seven hits in the seventh.

“Just how my season has gone,” said Maholm, Pittsburgh’s opening day starter who was 3-0 in April but has seen the Pirates lose 10 of his past 18 outings. “It’s frustrating. Nobody’s more frustrated then me.”

Cedeno hit his first homer with Pittsburgh since being acquired via trade from the Seattle Mariners on Wednesday. He has six on the season now. It came in the third after Brandon Moss had left off with a single, giving Pittsburgh a 2-1 lead.

Young’s homer, his fifth, led off the bottom of the seventh and went to right-center.

Ex-Pirate Sean Burnett (2-2) retired Ryan Doumit with two on to end the sixth and earn the win. He was booed when announced entering the game after calling the Pirates “the laughingstock of baseball” this week. Pittsburgh has gutted much of its roster via trades this season.

“I’ve never been booed before,” Burnett said. “It kind of pumped me up. It’s not that emotion you wanted, but it got my adrenaline pumping.”

Nationals rookie Collin Balester allowed two runs on five hits and two walks in 5 2-3 innings, striking out three.

“It was a good outing,” Balester said. “I felt like I just made a couple mistakes here and there, but other than that there was minimal damage.”

NOTES: Willingham originally was to make his first major league start at first base, but when OF Austin Kearns was a late scratch due to a right hand contusion, Riggleman juggled his lineup around. “I was actually looking forward to playing first, but also it’s not a bad thing to go back what I’m used to,” he said. … For the first time in eight games, Washington SS Cristian Guzman did not have at least two hits and at least one RBI. He ended up with one hit, failing to become the first player in franchise history to have at least two hits and an RBI in eight consecutive games since Vladimir Guerrero did for the Expos in 1998.



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