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Pirates' four-game winning streak snapped in 5-2 loss to Nationals

| Sunday, May 25, 2014, 4:57 p.m.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Pirates right fielder Josh Harrison dives for a ball hit by the Nationals' Ian Desmond during the seventh inning Sunday, May 25, 2014, at PNC Park. After replay, umpires ruled Harrison didn't control the ball, and Desmond was awarded a hit.

Denard Span of the Washington Nationals stood in the batter's box Sunday and hacked away at Francisco Liriano's confidence.

Leading off the fourth inning, Span dueled the Pirates left-hander in an 11-pitch at-bat. Span fouled off five pitches from Liriano — four sliders and a sinker — then pulled a single into right field.

Span soon scored, and the Nationals cruised to 5-2 victory, which snapped the Pirates' four-game winning streak.

Liriano (0-5) scuffled again and is winless in 11 starts this season. In five innings, he yielded four runs on five hits and four walks.

Over 26 starts last season, Liriano's ERA never rose above 3.02. It now stands at 5.06, the highest it has been since the 2012 season.

“I'm not doing my job,” Liriano said. “I'm missing pitches. It's frustrating. It's hard. I'm not keeping the team in ballgames.”

A left-handed batter, Span went 2 for 3 and scored two runs against Liriano. That's symbolic of Liriano's season so far — a year ago, he dominated lefties.

In 2013, Liriano held left-handed batters to a .131 average and a .321 on-base plus slugging percentage. He struck them out 27 percent of the time. This year, lefties are batting .289 against him.

“My two-seamer isn't sinking,” Liriano said. “It's cutting back to (the) middle sometimes. That's the problem I'm having.”

In the first inning, Span lashed the second pitch of the game — a two-seamer — past first baseman Ike Davis for a double. Anthony Rendon walked on four pitches.

With two outs and runners on second and third, Liriano bounced a slider a couple of feet in front of the plate. Span scored on the wild pitch. Ian Desmond's single to right field drove in Rendon to make it 2-0.

There was another gift run from Liriano in the Nationals' two-run fifth inning. Span again led off and capped his 11-pitch at-bat with a single.

“I think I made some great pitches to him, but he kept fouling them off,” Liriano said. “He's a great hitter. He won the fight.”

Rendon tripled off the wall in right-center to score Span. Right fielder Josh Harrison crashed into the padded wall and was stunned for a couple of seconds, but he stayed in the game.

With lefty hitter Adam LaRoche at the plate, Liriano threw another wild pitch and Rendon scored.

“When men get on base, (Liriano) seems to have a little rush (to his delivery),” manager Clint Hurdle said. “He's aware of it. He's trying to find a way to slow it down and focus on making the next good pitch. That hasn't happened with enough consistency.”

Of the 98 pitches Liriano threw in the game, 39 came in the fifth inning.

Nationals right-hander Doug Fister (2-1) didn't encounter much turbulence over the first five innings. The Pirates had three hits, all singles, in that span, but only one runner reached second base.

In the sixth, Harrison popped a solo home run into the Nationals' bullpen. Walker pulled a single on the ground into right field. Andrew McCutchen reached on a fielder's choice. Davis slapped a single to left.

Craig Stammen relieved Fister and got out of the jam with one pitch. Starling Marte grounded into a 5-3 double play.

“Stammen's a sinkerballer and has the ability to get a double-play,” Nationals manager Matt Williams said. “Marte had seen Doug a couple of times, so we wanted to give him a little different look (with Stammen). It worked good.”

The Pirates scored a run in the eighth but blew a chance for a big inning. McCutchen and Marte each struck out with runners on first and third.

Rob Biertempfel is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at rbiertempfel@tribweb.com or via Twitter @BiertempfelTrib.

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