Harper, LaRoche, Nats top Pirates, 4th win in row
WASHINGTON (AP) Washington Nationals first baseman Adam LaRoche was speaking after Friday night's game when his phone rang, the music from ''The Good, the Bad and the Ugly'' interrupting the interview session.
Timely, too. Because lately at the plate, LaRoche has gone from very bad to very good.
LaRoche and Bryce Harper each had two hits and drove in two runs, leading the Nationals over the Pittsburgh Pirates 5-4 for their fourth straight win.
After hitting .159 in July, the LaRoche is 17 for 51 (.333) this month, with four homers and nine RBIs.
''I hit those two balls tonight, hit them good, but found the right spot,'' he said. ''I feel two to three works ago those were right at somebody, potential double-play balls.''
The left-handed hitting LaRoche said he's been working on hitting the ball to the shortstop side.
''That's in BP, that's in the cage. When the game starts, wherever it goes, it goes,'' he said. ''I was getting in a little bit of a bad habit, pulling off some pitches, especially some pitches away.''
Friday night, LaRoche's hits went up the middle and into left field.
''He's staying on the ball better,'' manager Matt Williams said.
Denard Span added three hits as the NL-East leading Nationals opened a 10-game homestand.
Tanner Roark (12-7) gave up three runs on five hits over 5 2-3 innings.
Rafael Soriano allowed three hits in the ninth, including Pedro Alvarez's RBI single, but held on for his 29th save.
Starling Marte hit a two-run homer and singled for the Pirates, losers of three straight.
Charlie Morton (5-12) lasted just three innings in his shortest start of the season, allowing five runs on seven hits and three walks.
''You know, we didn't see a lot of consistency of sink and sharpness to (his) breaking ball,'' manager Clint Hurdle said.
LaRoche's single made it 1-0 with one out in the first.
With the bases loaded, Harper fouled a 2-2 pitch off his right foot and needed a several moments to recover. He stepped in and eventually lined a 3-2 pitch for a two-run single.
Off to a slower-than-usual start this year, Harper homered twice this week during a three-game sweep of the Mets in New York.
LaRoche and Wilson Ramos singled home runs in the third to make it 5-0.
The Pirates got to Roark in the fourth. Neil Walker doubled and Marte connected for his sixth homer. Alvarez then doubled home a run with two outs to pull Pittsburgh within 5-3.
Pirates: RHP Stolmy Pimentel (right ankle sprain) was placed on the 15-day disabled list. ... SS Jordy Mercer, who left Thursday's game with right forearm tightness, wasn't in the lineup. Mercer, who had started 49 straight games, grounded out as a pinch-hitter. ... Walker, who had missed 11 of the last 12 games with back tightness, started and went 1 for 4.
Nationals: RF Jayson Werth (right shoulder) missed his fourth straight game. Williams said Werth was available to pinch-hit and could return to the lineup Saturday, or more likely Sunday. OF Nate McLouth (right shoulder inflammation) is going to get a second opinion on his ailing shoulder. ''It's not responding as well as he'd like it to respond,'' Williams said.
Pirates: LHP Jeff Locke (4-3, 3.98) makes his second career start against the Nationals. He allowed three earned runs in five innings of a no-decision on May 4, 2013, at PNC Park.
Nationals: LHP Gio Gonzalez (6-9, 4.00) is 2-0 with a 3.28 ERA in four career starts against the Pirates. His teams (Nationals 3-0, A's 1-0) are undefeated in those games.
The Pirates activated RHP John Axford, who was claimed off waivers from the Cleveland Indians on Thursday, reuniting him with fellow Ontario, Canada native Russell Martin. The pair played together for Team Canada when they were 18. ''I put a lot of faith and trust in Russ not only just because he's Canadian, but he's a great catcher as well,'' Axford quipped before Friday's game.
Pop group One Direction performed at Nationals Park on Monday night and the grounds crew had to resod a portion of center field. Friday, center fielder Span joined principal owner Mark Lerner, general manager Mike Rizzo to examine the new grass. Span described the field as ''real soft.''