WASHINGTON -- For five innings James McDonald could not be touched.
He weaved his breaking pitches around the bats of the Washington Nationals, retiring them in order one inning after the next. Five innings without a hit, a solitary walk blemishing his line, and the Pirates had a four-run lead.
When McDonald began to slow, however, he slammed to a halt.
The Nationals took advantage of McDonald in the fifth, and Pirates' bullpen gave the Nationals hope. But the bullpen also preserved a 5-3 win at Nationals Park Thursday night.
McDonald took a no-hitter into the sixth inning before Jesus Flores hit a leadoff double. He also took a no-hitter into the seventh against the Colorado Rockies in April before Troy Tulowitzki broke it up.
He struck out 11 batters in 52/3 innings, but allowed three runs on four Nationals hits in a sixth inning that tarnished his stellar outing.
He struck out every starter except the opposing pitcher, Jordan Zimmermann, and his 11 strikeouts tied the mark Erik Bedard set for the season May 3 against the St. Louis Cardinals.
Joel Hanrahan earned his eighth save.
Andrew McCutchen put the Pirates ahead in the first when he hit Zimmermann's 1-1 fastball into the Nationals' bullpen in right field. His fourth homer of the season gave the Pirates a 1-0 lead.
The Pirates scored in the first inning for the fifth time in six games.
McDonald struck out five of the first six batters he faced and six in a row from the first to the third innings.
The Pirates worked Zimmerman's pitch count up to 56 through the first three innings, but could not take advantage of base-runners in the second or third.
After singling in the second inning, Rod Barajas hit an 0-1 fastball into the left-field seats for his third home run of the season. The homer scored Casey McGehee, who walked, and gave the Pirates a 3-0 lead.
McCutchen hit his second home run of the game on a hanging slider, the first pitch Zimmermann threw in the sixth, to extend the Pirates' lead to 4-0.
Once Flores broke up the no-hitter, the hits came quickly. Pinch-hitter Steve Lombardozzi doubled, but Flores failed to score from second. It didn't matter because Ryan Zimmerman's two-out single scored two runs and cut the Pirates' lead to 4-2.
Adam LaRoche tripled off the wall in left field to score Zimmerman, cutting the Pirates' lead to a run. Left-hander Tony Watson relieved McDonald to face the left-handed Bryce Harper and got him to pop out to end the inning.
Josh Harrison doubled in the seventh, went to third when pinch-hitter Clint Barmes bunted him over and scored when Neil Walker grounded into a fielder's choice. That run made score 5-3 and gave Juan Cruz an extra insurance run entering the seventh.
Danny Espinosa hit a ball off Cruz into the left-center field gap that Jose Tabata ran down, but the ball bounced out of his glove, and Desmond ended up on second with what was ruled a double. Cruz walked Rick Ankiel after starting him 0-2, and Flores' sacrifice bunt put runners on second and third with one out.
Cruz then got a weak ground-ball out from Lombardozzi and struck out Ian Desmond to end the threat. Jason Grilli pitched a scoreless eighth.
Bill Brink: firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @BrinkPG.