MLB

Pirates-Nationals Preview

One day after being no-hit, it's the Pittsburgh Pirates' turn for a noteworthy pitching performance - and it won't require any variety of complete-game dominance.

A simple win Sunday for Charlie Morton will achieve something far more rare, though after the first two of a three-game series with the Washington Nationals, earning a victory is looking like a tall task.

Max Scherzer limited the Pirates (39-29) to one baserunner Saturday in a 6-0 win that extended both Washington's overall and home winning streaks against Pittsburgh to six.

Morton (5-0, 1.62 ERA) has won all five of his outings since starting the season on the disabled list, and another would make the Pirates the first team since Seattle in 2003 to have three pitchers with six-start winning streaks in the same season.

Dating to 1914, the Pirates have never done it, and no team has accomplished it prior to the end of June since the 1920 Cleveland Indians, who went on to win the World Series.

After A.J. Burnett became the first contributor May 7-June 2, Gerrit Cole is showing no signs of allowing his streak to end.

Morton also has a streak of 14 1-3 scoreless innings going after limiting the Chicago White Sox to four hits in seven innings of Tuesday's 3-0 win. The right-hander had right hip surgery in September, and a poor spring delayed his first start until May 25.

"Guess what I was doing in Florida is paying off," Morton told MLB's official website. "I had to work on my mechanics, get back to being right. Failure during spring training forced me to change some things."

He now needs to figure out Washington, against which he's 2-3 with a 4.70 ERA in six starts. Wilson Ramos is 5 for 11 against Morton.

The Nationals (36-33) counter with Gio Gonzalez, who seems unlikely to encore Scherzer. Gonzalez (4-4, 4.82) allowed five runs and eight hits in 3 1-3 innings of Monday's 6-1 loss in Tampa Bay to fall to 0-2 with a 5.57 ERA in his last four starts.

He's walked 12 batters in 21 innings over that span, and while his 3.74 walks per nine innings isn't quite a return to the control troubles he had in Oakland (4.44), it's his highest season mark with the Nationals.

"He got behind hitters, lost command of the strike zone. He didn't have any command at all today. He has to work on that," manager Matt Williams said.

Facing Pittsburgh hasn't been as much trouble for the left-hander, who is 2-0 with a 3.64 ERA in five career starts. Josh Harrison is 5 for 9 with two home runs against Gonzalez, but Andrew McCutchen (2 for 10) and Pedro Alvarez (0 for 6 with four strikeouts) have struggled. For Alvarez, there's also a current 2-for-16 slump to be concerned with, while Starling Marte and Gregory Polanco are in 2-for-15 slides.

The Pirates have been without Neil Walker, who has missed three games with a stomach illness. Washington's Yunel Escobar was a late scratch Saturday with the same ailment.

The Nationals have limited Pittsburgh to a run and six hits in the series, run production Bryce Harper surpassed with a homer and two RBIs Saturday.

The 22-year-old is batting .422 with 18 homers and a 1.461 OPS in his last 38 games and has only been outdone in the home run category in that time. He'd missed two games after straining his hamstring, and it sounds as though he isn't back to 100 percent.

"I've played through pain the past two years sometimes, so it feels OK, but I'm just trying to get in there and play for the team," Harper said.

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