National complete 3-game sweep of Pirates, losing streak hits 5
WASHINGTON — With six weeks left in the season, the list of problems facing the Pirates is lengthy and not easy to tackle.
The bullpen has been torched in back-to-back games. Two starting pitchers are on the disabled list. Shortstop Jordy Mercer remains on the active roster despite a sore right arm, but he cannot swing a bat or throw a baseball.
The infield defense has been shaky, and it's starting to spread beyond wild-armed third baseman Pedro Alvarez. And, of course, Andrew McCutchen is out indefinitely with a rib injury.
Those woes added up to a 6-5 loss in 11 innings Sunday against the Washington Nationals. Jayson Werth doubled and scored on pinch-hitter Scott Hairston's sacrifice fly to win it.
The come-from-ahead defeat completed an 0-5 road trip that dropped the Pirates 51⁄2 games behind the first-place Milwaukee Brewers in the NL Central.
“Anything that can go wrong is going wrong at this point,” said Neil Walker, who has not started consecutive games since July 31-Aug. 1 because of a sore lower back.
“We've got to play better baseball. It's as simple as that. We know we're better than what we're showing right now.
“It's not that guys are overwhelmed or trying to do too much. It's a matter of being in different roles. The lineup situation is different (because of injuries), and guys aren't familiar with their roles. That's what happens. This is the toughest part of the year.”
Over the past five days, the Pirates also tumbled out of the top two spots in the NL wild-card chase. They are 11⁄2 games behind the San Francisco Giants for the final playoff berth.
The Pirates return home Monday to face the Atlanta Braves, who have crept up on them in the wild-card race.
“Nobody ever said it was going to be easy,” said utilityman Josh Harrison, who jammed his ankle Sunday sliding into second base but remained in the game. “We knew coming into the season it was going to be a grind.”
The game began as a duel between Pirates right-hander Edinson Volquez and Nationals righty Doug Fister.
The teams combined for four hits, all singles, over the first five innings.
The Pirates took a 2-0 lead in the sixth. But they also failed to pad their lead after loading the bases with no outs in the inning.
Trailing 2-1 in the seventh, the Nationals loaded the bases with one out. Ground-ball specialist Jared Hughes replaced Volquez.
Hughes did his job — but his mates failed miserably at theirs.
“We got three ground balls from Hughes and an opportunity to put the inning away without letting them score,” manager Clint Hurdle said. “We didn't execute plays on either corner.”
Asdrubal Cabrera hit a bouncer to first baseman Ike Davis, who threw wildly to the plate. Two runners scored on the error.
Anthony Rendon hit a chopper to Alvarez, who tried to loft the ball to the plate. The throw was too high and got away from catcher Russell Martin. Span scored to give the Nationals a 4-2 edge.
The Pirates scored three runs in the ninth off closer Rafael Soriano. Starling Marte scored on a wild pitch. Gregory Polanco ripped a two-run, two-out double.
For the first time in his past 13 chances, closer Mark Melancon blew a save. Jayson Werth walked on five pitches and scored on Cabrera's single to make it 5-5.
In the 11th, Werth whacked a fastball from Brandon Cumpton (3-4) for a leadoff double. Left fielder Michael Martinez tried to make a running catch, but slammed into the padded wall as the ball caromed off it.
Denard Span worked a full count, then rolled a grounder to first base that moved Werth to third.
Hairston hit a fly ball to left field. The throw from Martinez, who had entered the game as a pinch-runner in the ninth, was off line and late.
Rob Biertempfel is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @BiertempfelTrib.
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