Wednesday, July 11, 2018

PITTSBURGH — It was a rare major league game that could be seen only in person or on Facebook.

For starting pitcher Gio Gonzalez, it was a chance to save face over recent outings.

The Nationals lefty, who has not won a game since May 28, allowed just two runs in six innings but Washington lost to the Pittsburgh Pirates 2-0 on Wednesday afternoon. The Nationals have been blanked nine times since June 1.

Washington (46-46) lost two of three games in the series, has not won back-to-back series since late May and has dropped 21 of its last 31 outings.

The third-place Nationals, who won three of four at Miami at home last weekend, began the day 5.5 games back of the first-place Phillies in the National League East and appear to be stumbling into the All-Star break.

Starling Marte hit a two-run homer off Gonzalez in the third to give the Pirates a 2-0 lead. It came on a 2-1 pitch and was the 11th homer of the year for Marte.

Gonzalez had lost his past three decisions and had not pitched more than five innings in his previous four starts. In his previous seven starts, he was 0-3 with an ERA of 8.14 before Wednesday.

One change against the Pirates: his catcher was Matt Wieters, who was on the disabled list from May 11 until Monday. Pedro Severino, the regular catcher while Wieters was out, was sent to Triple-A Syracuse on Monday while Spencer Kieboom stayed with the Nationals as the backup to Wieters.

The last time Wieters caught Gonzalez in a game was May 9 when the Nationals lost 2-1 at home to San Diego. Gonzalez allowed just five hits and one run in six innings that day while throwing 110 pitches.

The Nationals offense was stymied by Pirates starter Trevor Williams and his bullpen.

Williams allowed no runs on four hits before he was pulled after five innings. This from a pitcher who had an ERA of 7.02 in his previous nine games with a record of 1-5.

Pirates closer Felipe Vazquez, known as Felipe Rivero when he played for Washington, pitched the ninth for the Pirates (43-49) and notched his 20th save of the year. He fanned the first two batters he faced.

The Nationals had several flyballs caught on the warning track by the Pirates, including a drive by Matt Adams in the top of the fourth. Adams also had a ball caught on the warning track in right in the eighth.

Washington had more bad luck at the plate as Juan Soto was thrown out at first in the fifth on a diving stop by second baseman Josh Harrison. Adam Eaton hit a ball off the wall in right but was held to a single to begin that frame.

Slumping Bryce Harper (.213) struck out to end the fifth with two runners on base. It was his fifth strikeout in eight at-bats and the 97th time he has fanned this year in 314 official at-bats.

Martinez said right-handed pitcher Stephen Strasburg will throw a bullpen session Thursday in New York and could make another rehab outing Sunday. Strasburg pitched 3.1 innings on Tuesday for the Single-A Potomac Nationals in Lynchburg, Virginia.

“He said he felt pretty good,” Martinez said. “He has a bullpen session tomorrow and we will see how he feels after that. He will meet us in New York. I like the fact his velocity was pretty good. He topped at 98 (miles per hour). So that was nice. He was consistently at 95.”

NOTES: Washington begins a four-game series Thursday night in New York against the Mets. Nationals ace Max Scherzer (11-5, 2.33) will face Mets lefty Steven Matz (4-6, 3.31). Scherzer threw a no-hitter in New York against the Mets in 2015 … First baseman Ryan Zimmerman could begin a minor league rehab assignment Monday, according to Martinez … Adams, the Nationals first baseman, played in college at nearby Division II Slippery Rock.

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