Pedro Alvarez tries to make the throw to first base but the Nationals' Denard Span is safe during the first inning at Nationals Park Friday night in Washington.
By Bill Brink / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
WASHINGTON — Charlie Morton had the first batter he faced Friday night, Denard Span, in an 0-2 hole. Fastball, curveball, both for called strikes. Then, Morton started missing.
First, he missed high, then to the wrong side of the plate. “I’m trying to go inside there and I miss away and he hits a ground ball and we were shifted,” Morton said. “From the get-go, just missing.”
Such missing continued for three innings. By the time Morton was done, the Washington Nationals banked enough runs to beat the Pirates, 5-4, at Nationals Park.
By the time Jayson Nix pinch-hit for Morton in the fourth, Morton had allowed five runs, seven hits and three walks in three innings. Opponents have scored at least four earned runs in four of his past five outings, during which time he has a 4.85 ERA while allowing 34 hits in 26 innings.
“We didn’t see a lot of consistency of sink and sharpness to the breaking ball,” said Pirates manager Clint Hurdle, who likened Morton’s outing to the final two innings of his previous start.
After three perfect innings Sunday against the San Diego Padres, Morton gave up five runs in the fourth and fifth.
“The last two innings he pitched at home, the ball was up as well,” Hurdle said. “We can dig a little bit deeper, but it just wasn’t there for him.”
The bullpen pitched five scoreless innings, including a perfect eighth with two strikeouts in John Axford’s Pirates debut.
After scoring three runs in the fourth, the Pirates couldn’t do much until the ninth. Pedro Alvarez drove in a run, his second RBI of the game, to cut the Nationals’ lead to one, but Rafael Soriano recorded the save.
Alvarez went 2 for 4 with a double and two RBIs and Neil Walker doubled. Both returned to the starting lineup after time on the bench, Walker due to injury and Alvarez because of poor defense.
Nationals starter Tanner Roark carried a 2.86 ERA into the game, which placed him ninth among National League starters, but he lacked the efficiency to pitch that deep Friday, needing 107 pitches to complete 52⁄3 innings, but left with a lead.
The first six Nationals batters of the game reached base against Morton. Span singled and Asdrubal Cabrera walked on four pitches after Span stole second. Russell Martin slowed the onslaught momentarily by throwing out Span trying to steal third, but Anthony Rendon promptly singled.
Adam LaRoche’s hit scored a run. Ian Desmond walked, again on four pitches. Bryce Harper ended a nine-pitch at-bat by lining a single just out of reach of a leaping Walker to score two runs.
Wilson Ramos grounded into a double play, but the Nationals had a 3-0 lead and forced Morton to throw 31 pitches in the first. He needed 11 to retire the side in order in the second, including two strikeouts, but the Nationals resumed their attack in the third.
This time, the first four batters reached base. Cabrera singled and Rendon walked before LaRoche’s hit scored a run. Ian Desmond reached first on a fielder’s choice and Harper struck out. But Ramos bounced the first pitch he saw up the middle, giving the Nationals a 5-0 lead.
Morton (5-12) said he felt healthy “other than the normal stuff.”
Starling Marte cut into the lead in the fourth. After Walker doubled, Marte crushed a 1-0 slider into the seats in left field for his sixth home run and first since June 13.
Alvarez doubled home Travis Snider, slicing the lead to 5-3. His second RBI hit five innings later brought the Pirates within a run, but the deficit Morton allowed was too deep.
Bill Brink: email@example.com and Twitter @BrinkPG.
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