PITTSBURGH (AP) - The Washington Nationals were prepared for Erik Bedard.
Brad Lincoln and four other Pirates relievers? Not so much.
Bedard left early with back spasms and the Nationals struggled against Pittsburgh's bullpen in a 4-2 loss on Wednesday night.
Washington went just 1 for 8 with runners in scoring position and left the bases loaded in the eighth and runners on second and third in the ninth.
``We just didn't come through in the clutch,' Washington shortstop Ian Desmond said. ``That one big hit we've been waiting for, we didn't get it today.'
The Nationals, one of baseball's biggest surprises during the first month of the season, have dropped three straight.
``My guys are trying, pumped up to keep winning ballgames,' Washington manager Davey Johnson said. ``We're just not getting quality at_bats, that's all.'
Andrew McCutchen went 4 for 4 for the Pirates, including his second home run in as many nights. Lincoln (2-0) earned the victory with three shutout innings after replacing Bedard, who was lifted three pitches into the second inning due to back spasms.
Joel Hanrahan survived a shaky ninth to pick up his sixth save as the Pirates won consecutive games for the first time since April 17-18.
Though McCutchen's eighth-inning blast gave the Pirates some breathing room, it was his daring dash from second to home on an infield single to cap Pittsburgh's three-run third inning stoked his teammates.
The Pirates had runners on first and second with two outs when McCutchen took off on Casey McGehee's slow roller to shortstop. Desmond scooped it up and thought about firing to first before pulling the ball down. Desmond then glanced at third, but McCutchen was already on his way to the plate. By the time Desmond got the ball out of his hands, it was too late.
Desmond praised McCutchen's speed rather than blame his own indecision.
``I would say nine or 10 times out of 10 that runner stops and tries to dive back into third,' Desmond said. ``He saw that I fielded it and he looked at me and darted toward home.'
Ross Detwiler (3-2) allowed three runs and seven hits with four strikeouts in six innings for Washington. Desmond had two hits and Xavier Nady and Chad Tracy knocked in runs for the Nationals.
Washington had its chances to rally in both the eighth and ninth innings.
The Nationals loaded the bases with one out in the eighth against Jason Grilli, but Grilli struck out Danny Espinosa and Rick Ankiel to end the threat.
Hanrahan, who blew a save on Tuesday only to be bailed out by Rod Barajas' game-winning two-run homer, entered in the ninth and struggled again. He hit pinch-hitter Steve Lombardozzi with one out then gave up a double to Desmond.
In stepped heralded Washington rookie Bryce Harper, still looking for his first major league home run. He swung for the fences while falling behind 0-2 then popped meekly to shortstop.
Ryan Zimmerman followed and worked the count full before striking out on a 96 mph fastball from Hanrahan.
``I had a good pitch to hit, I just missed it,' Zimmerman said. ``(Hanrahan) throws hard; it's not easy to square someone up like that.'
The victory gave the Pirates something they haven't had in awhile: momentum. Save for a brief two-game slide in St. Louis last week, Pittsburgh has alternated wins and losses in each game.
The Pirates hoped Bedard would give them a boost. Instead the oft-injured left-hander was lifted after throwing a fastball to Adam LaRoche in the second inning. Bedard grabbed his side after letting the pitch go. He tried to stretch for manager Clint Hurdle before being sent to the dugout.
``I think it just jumped on him,' Hurdle said.
Enter Lincoln, a spot starter turned long reliever. He gave up an unearned run, one hit and four strikeouts and one walk in three innings while dropping his ERA to 0.63.
``I had no time to think about getting into the game,' Lincoln said. ``You just go in there and give `em what you got.'
Nady, making a start in right field in place of injured Jayson Werth, put Washington on the board with an RBI single in the fourth and Tracy's pinch-hit sacrifice fly in the seventh pulled the Nationals within 3-2.
Washington would get no closer, though the Nationals refused to blame their slide on a letdown following an emotional home series with Philadelphia last weekend.
``I think guys are frustrated, not like we're out of it by any means but guys are frustrated because they know what we can do,' Desmond said. ``We know we're a good offensive ballclub.'
NOTES: Injured Washington reliever Drew Storen could begin a throwing program by the end of the week. Storen hasn't pitched all season while recovering from bone chips in his right elbow. Johnson said he's hopeful Storen and closer Brad Lidge - recovering from abdominal surgery - will be making rehab appearances by the end of the month ... The series concludes on Thursday when Washington's Stephen Strasburg (2-0, 1.66 ERA) faces Pittsburgh's Kevin Correia (1-2, 3.38) ... Pittsburgh outfielder Alex Presley, mired in a 3-for-28 slump, didn't start for the second straight game while he works in the batting cage.
The Associated Press News Service
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