Following the dismissal of their hitting coach, the Washington Nationals showed some signs of turning things around offensively against the best pitching staff in baseball.
The Nationals will try to end to their struggles at the plate and snap a four-game losing streak Tuesday night when they host the Pittsburgh Pirates, who could be without their All-Star closer for an extended period.
With the team ranking near the bottom of the major leagues with 3.71 runs per game and a .240 batting average, Washington (48-51) fired hitting coach Rick Eckstein before Monday's 6-5 loss in the series opener.
Eckstein was replaced by Rick Schu, who will be asked to help turn around an offense that has gone 6 for 75 (.080) with runners in scoring position and averaged 2.6 runs per game during this 2-9 stretch.
The Nationals were on their way to another lackluster performance with one run through the first six innings Monday, but Jayson Werth hit two-run homers in the seventh and ninth.
Werth has four homers in his last two games and is hitting .431 since July 4.
"There's a lot of character on this ballclub, there's no quit, there's a lot of fight,' manager Davey Johnson said. "By and large everybody swung the bat pretty good.'
Pittsburgh's Vin Mazzaro had to come in to get the final out for his first career save with the tying run on second base after closer Jason Grilli left with an injury.
Grilli was place on the 15-day disabled list Tuesday with a right forearm strain, and manager Clint Hurdle said Mark Melancon will assume the closer's role.
The Pirates (58-39), whose 3.09 ERA is baseball's best, will try to win a third straight by sending rookie Gerrit Cole (4-3, 3.89 ERA) to the mound.
Cole became the first Pittsburgh pitcher since Nick Maddox in 1907 to win the first four starts of his career, but he's received just four runs of support during a three-start losing streak.
The right-hander surrendered three first-innings runs before settling in for four more scoreless frames in a 4-2 loss to the Mets on July 14.
"It's the growing pains of a young pitcher,' Hurdle said. "His command wasn't good and the changeup didn't come into play until the 35th pitch of the game even though it had been a good pitch for him in his previous outing.'
The Nationals counter with their own rookie right-hander as Taylor Jordan (0-2, 3.32) searches for his first big-league win in his fifth start.
Although he hasn't yielded more than three earned runs in any of his four outings, Taylor has gotten a total of seven runs from the slumping Washington offense.
The Pirates hit six solo homers over the weekend while dropping two of three in Cincinnati, but Andrew McCutchen hit two-run shots in his first two plate appearances Monday.
The All-Star outfielder is 10 for 25 with five home runs in his last six games. He's 17 for 33 with five homers and 11 RBIs in his last eight games at Nationals Park.
"Every player always has a ballpark he seems to hit at better than other places,' McCutchen said. "I guess mine happens to be here.'
The Pirates, however, continue to struggle with a major league-worst .222 average with runners in scoring position after going hitless in 10 chances Monday.
The Associated Press News Service
The Associated Press
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