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Pirates hand Nationals another setback

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WASHINGTON (AP) - Pirates left-hander Francisco Liriano did not allow a hit until the sixth inning against a struggling and depleted Nationals lineup, and Pedro Alvarez homered off an otherwise-dominant Stephen Strasburg, leading Pittsburgh past Washington 4-2 Wednesday night.

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The Nationals fell to 0-6 since the All-Star break - scoring a grand total of 13 runs in that span - and have lost 11 of their last 13 games.

Already the owner of one previous no-hitter, Liriano (10-4) walked the first batter he faced, then retired 11 in a row before another walk. Five more outs followed, before rookie Anthony Rendon reached on what was ruled an infield single with two away in the sixth.

Third baseman Alvarez dove to his left to stop the ball, but it popped out of his glove, and he couldn't quite corral it. The next batter walked, but Liriano struck out cleanup hitter Jayson Werth looking to end the inning.

The Nationals wasted an exceptional outing from Strasburg (5-8), who struck out 12 and did not walk anyone in eight innings. He gave up only one run and two hits, all in the second inning. That included the leadoff shot by Alvarez, who drove a 96 mph fastball over the wall in right-center for his 26th homer.

It was Strasburg's ninth career game with 10 or more strikeouts and first this season. His career high remains the 14 Ks from his major league debut on June 8, 2010, against Pittsburgh.

The Pirates tacked on three insurance runs in the ninth against relievers Drew Storen and Fernando Abad, thanks to Neil Walker's RBI double and Michael McKenry's two-run single. That became pivotal when Werth hit a two-run shot, his 15th homer of the year, off reliever Justin Wilson in the bottom of the ninth. Werth is seemingly the only Nationals batter capable of producing at the moment; he's hit five homers in the past four games.

Wilson was replaced by Mark Melancon, who got the last three outs to earn his third save - ending with a double play on which second baseman Walker appeared to miss on his attempted tag of runner Wilson Ramos. Melancon is filling in for closer Jason Grilli, on the disabled list with a strained right forearm.

The Nationals led the majors with 98 wins in 2012, but now are a season-worst five games under .500 at 48-53. Already having all sorts of trouble at the plate - so much so that the club fired hitting coach Rick Eckstein this week - Washington's starting lineup was missing All-Star left fielder Bryce Harper and shortstop Ian Desmond.

Harper was held out as a precaution after getting treatment on the left knee that landed him on the disabled list earlier this season, while Desmond is dealing with a blister on his left hand.

The Nationals entered the game with a .239 team batting average, 27th in the 30-team major leagues. They also had a .299 on-base percentage and .383 slugging percentage. Plus, given that the Nationals were hitting .212 against lefties, it probably was not all that surprising that they could not handle Liriano's shifting speeds and right-where-he-wanted-it placement.

Liriano, who threw a no-hitter for the Twins against the White Sox on May 3, 2011, wound up pitching 7 2-3 scoreless innings, allowing two singles and three walks while striking out eight. Washington's second hit was Steve Lombardozzi's leading off the eighth, and he was bunted over to second base. But Liriano struck out Scott Hairston looking, then was replaced by Wilson, who got Rendon to pop out in foul territory.

Notes: The Pirates play 14 of their final 59 games against the St. Louis Cardinals, the team Pittsburgh trails in the NL Central standings. ``It is unique. I think it kind of pushes you,'' Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. ... Nationals manager Davey Johnson said rookie RHP Taylor Jordan probably has 20-30 innings left before he'll be shut down. ... Desmond has played in 99 of Washington's 101 games. ... Before the game, Johnson didn't have any word on what happened during LHP Ross Detwiler's visit to a back specialist in Los Angeles. ... On Thursday, the Nationals will start LHP Gio Gonzalez (7-3, 2.89) against Pirates RHP A.J. Burnett (4-7, 3.07). ... The Nationals open a four-game series against the New York Mets with a doubleheader Friday. Washington will start RHP Jordan Zimmermann (12-5, 3.01) in Game 1, RHP Ross Ohlendorf (2-0, 2.03) in Game 2.

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Follow Howard Fendrich on Twitter at http://twitter.com/HowardFendrich

AP NEWS
The Associated Press News Service

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The Associated Press
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