The Pirates' bullpen faced an eight-inning uphill climb Wednesday night, but its members made their way to the top with a win.
An early exit by starter Erik Bedard created the task, but they answered, preserving a 4-2 win against the Washington Nationals at PNC Park.
The Pirates secured a series win and won two games in a row for the first time since April 18.
Bedard left the game in the top of the second inning due to back spasms.
He needed only five pitches to retire the Nationals in order in the first. He threw three pitches in the second, but grimaced in pain after the final pitch, a fastball to Adam LaRoche. Manager Clint Hurdle and assistant trainer Ben Potenziano visited the mound after Bedard twisted his back, appearing to try to stretch his back or side. After the staff consulted with him, he left the game, and Brad Lincoln replaced him.
Lincoln struck out LaRoche and Danny Espinosa in the second, then worked a perfect third.
Bedard experienced back spasms before, in June 2008 while with the Seattle Mariners. He missed his next scheduled start but started nine days after the injury. He made two more starts that year before a shoulder injury ended the 2008 season for him.
Jeff Karstens, who is on the 15-day disabled list because of shoulder inflammation, threw at PNC Park Wednesday but not ready to return. The Pirates could install Lincoln in the rotation, a job he has held before and one he prefers to relief, if Bedard has to miss a start.
Bedard's next scheduled start is Monday at the Miami Marlins. Lincoln could pitch in his place on normal rest, thought that would leave the bullpen short-handed for the next week. Left-hander Justin Wilson is scheduled to start Monday for Class AAA Indianapolis, and the Pirates could choose to have him make a spot start.
The Pirates scored three runs in the third inning, a rally that started when Lincoln reached base after striking out when the ball got away from Wilson Ramos. Jose Tabata, Neil Walker and Andrew McCutchen hit consecutive singles, the latter two driving in runs.
Casey McGehee grounded to deep short with the both runners going. Ian Desmond fielded the ball, but didn't throw to first. He looked to third, but McCutchen didn't stop, and by the time Desmond double-clutched and threw to the plate, McCutchen slid in safely to make the score 3-0.
The Nationals got one back in the fourth. Bryce Harper walked, then reached third when Pedro Alvarez, playing in shallow right field for a defensive shift, bobbled LaRoche's grounder. Xavier Nady's single scored Harper.
Lincoln left after three innings, allowing one unearned run on one hit and striking out four. Jared Hughes took over in the top of the fifth and struck out the side.
The Nationals cut the lead to one in the seventh off Juan Cruz. Danny Espinosa doubled, went to third on a wild pitch and scored on Chad Tracy's sacrifice fly to reduce the Pirates' lead to 3-2.
Jason Grilli loaded the bases in the eighth, but got a call on a 3-1 pitch to Espinosa. He then struck out Espinosa and Rick Ankiel to end the inning.
McCutchen hit his second home run of the season in the bottom of the eighth.
Bill Brink: email@example.com and on Twitter @BrinkPG.
First Published May 10, 2012 2:15 AM