WASHINGTON (AP) - Throughout the bumpy opening weeks of the Washington Nationals’ season, first-year manager Dave Martinez counseled patience and reiterated that victories would eventually materialize.
They’ve come this week at the expense of the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Trea Turner and Ryan Zimmerman homered in the sixth inning and the Nationals beat Pittsburgh 3-1 Thursday, completing a four-game sweep and extending their winning streak to a season-high five games.
“For us to gather four or five wins in a row, it’s awesome,” Martinez said. “I just want them to keep going, keep playing hard. That’s it.”
Jeremy Hellickson and four relievers combined on a five-hitter for Washington, which won with just four hits.
Sammy Solis (1-1) retired the only batter he faced on one pitch, ending the sixth to keep the game scoreless. Sean Doolittle earned his sixth save in as many attempts, recording his first five-out save since Sept. 30, 2015, and only the second of his career.
The two-time NL East champions improved to 16-16, reaching the .500 mark for the first time since April 20. It has played the entire season without injured second baseman Daniel Murphy.
Outfielder Adam Eaton and third baseman Anthony Rendon went on the disabled list last month, providing Martinez with plenty of challenges.
“One of the things I’ve been most impressed with Davey about is he hasn’t really changed,” Zimmerman said. “Obviously not the best April you want to have with wins and losses and kind of injuries and things like that. Stayed exactly the same, positive and energetic and now it’s starting to kind of turn a little bit so the balls are starting to fall get some big hits when we need to.”
Trevor Williams (4-2) allowed only two runners over the first five innings. Wilmer Difo led off with a single, and after Bryce Harper flied out, Turner hit his second home run of the season.
Two batters later, Zimmerman connected for his fifth homer.
“I’m disappointed with how I gave up three runs in the sixth,” Williams said. “Other than that, it was just two bad pitches today. We executed some good pitches today and gave our team a chance to win.”
“Sometimes, balls just don’t fall your way. We had a lot of loud outs and had a lot of guys that were making great defensive plays on their end. It was just bad bounces for us this series,” he said.
Pittsburgh loaded the bases in the eighth against Ryan Madson on a hit batter, a single and an error. Doolittle entered and got Gregory Polanco on an RBI grounder and retired Starling Marte on a flyball.
The Pirates scored only 10 runs during the series. They were 3 for 22 with runners in scoring position over the four games, including 0 for 5 on Thursday.
“We didn’t get on base very often,” manager Clint Hurdle said. “We only had a handful of times where we had two runners on base in the four games. Then when the opportunities presented themselves, we weren’t able to shoot that ball in the gap. We weren’t able to get that big swing.”
Hellickson pitched 5 2/3 scoreless innings, retiring 13 in a row before yielding a two-out single in the sixth to Adam Frazier. That ended the right-hander’s day, as manager Martinez was unwilling to permit Hellickson to venture too deep into Pittsburgh’s lineup for a third time.
Hellickson struck out four and allowed three hits. He has not gotten a victory since Aug. 25 when he was with Baltimore, a span of nine starts.
DIFO’S BIG SERIES
Difo was 7 of 12 in the series with a homer, four walks and three RBIs. He had three multihit games against the Pirates, matching his total from his first 26 games.
Nationals: Rendon (bruised toe) will serve as the designated hitter Thursday night as he starts a rehabilitation assignment at Class A Potomac.
Pirates: RHP Nick Kingham (1-0, 0.00 ERA), who took a perfect game into the seventh inning of his major league debut Sunday against St. Louis, gets another turn in the rotation Friday as Pittsburgh begins a three-game series in Milwaukee.
Nationals: Washington’s homestand continues as Philadelphia arrives for a three-game series. LHP Gio Gonzalez (3-2, 2.67) starts Friday and is 10-7 with a 2.69 ERA in 23 career starts against the Phillies.
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