Pittsburgh Pirates' Starling Marte scores on a double by Jung Ho Kang during the fifth inning of a baseball game against the Washington Nationals in Pittsburgh, Thursday, July 23, 2015. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)
Gene J. Puskar
July 23, 2015

PITTSBURGH (AP) The Pittsburgh Pirates limped home at the end of a miserable road trip after the All-Star break early Thursday morning hoping to recapture some of the momentum that led to their two-month surge up the standings.

A pregame trade for a familiar face sent the message that help was on the way. An even more familiar one shook off an achy neck and shut down the Washington Nationals.

Francisco Liriano allowed three hits over six-plus dominant innings and the Pirates raced by the Nationals 7-3 on Thursday night. Liriano, scratched from a start in Milwaukee over the weekend with a neck injury, struck out 11 against three walks as Pittsburgh snapped a seven-game losing streak to Washington.

The Nationals didn't even manage a ball out of the infield until Ian Desmond's single with no outs in the fifth. Liriano retired the first 12 hitters he faced on either strikeouts or grounders back to the mound.

''I can't remember a game through four innings where the only people that played were the pitcher, the catcher and the first baseman,'' manager Clint Hurdle said. ''I haven't seen that before.''

Andrew McCutchen, Pedro Alvarez and Francisco Cervelli homered for Pittsburgh. Starling Marte and Jung Ho Kang added two hits apiece for the Pirates, who acquired third baseman Aramis Ramirez from the Brewers before the game to bolster an infield dealing with injuries to Josh Harrison and Jordy Mercer.

Neither player will return until late-August at the earliest, leading the Pirates to bring back the 37-year-old Ramirez a dozen years to the day they shipped him to the Chicago Cubs.

''What we wanted to get was an established player, an experienced player, a proven run producer,'' Pittsburgh manager Clint Hurdle said. ''It's his last season. He's coming back to a place where he probably has some fond memories.''

Doug Fister (3-6) labored through five innings, giving up four runs and nine hits to drop his third straight decision. Desmond had two of Washington's six hits, including a two-run homer in the ninth.

''It's inexcusable,'' Fister said. ''I started getting to feeling better and strong and being able to kind of locate (but I'm) messing up too many pitches.''

The Pirates came home for a brief four-game series against the Nationals following a bumpy start to the season's second half. Pittsburgh dropped five of six on the road and watched Mercer join Harrison on the disabled list with a sprained left knee.

Ramirez's expected arrival on Saturday should help settle the offense. Pitching isn't an issue for the team with the second-best ERA in the majors, and Liriano had little trouble overwhelming the Nationals. He breezed through the first four innings before things went sideways in the fifth. Clint Robinson led off with a walk, Desmond singled and Robinson eventually scored following a pair of wild pitches.

Still, Liriano managed to escape the 33-pitch inning with a 2-1 lead that Hurdle likened to a ride at Disney World.

Pittsburgh quickly added on to give Liriano plenty of cushion. Marte singled off Fister with one out in the bottom of the fifth and scored on a double by Kang, who then came home following a fielder's choice by Alvarez to make it 4-1. Liriano eventually left after giving up a leadoff double to Robinson in the seventh, but reliever Jared Hughes left Robinson stranded at third.

McCutchen's 13th homer of the season - a two-run shot off Tanner Roark in the seventh - pushed Pittsburgh's lead to five as Pittsburgh improved to 10-1 in their last 11 games at PNC Park.

''We need to get our game in a better place,'' Hurdle said. ''We were able to get our game in a better place tonight.''


Washington: 3B Yunel Escobar did not start, but was available to play a day after collapsing to the ground in pain while trying to check his swing against the Mets. X-rays and a CT scan on Escobar's left wrist were negative.

Pittsburgh: Mercer walked into the clubhouse with barely a limp on Thursday and is optimistic he will be back sooner rather than later after heading to the 15-day disabled list on Monday with a sprained MCL in his left knee. Mercer injured the knee following a hard slide into second by Milwaukee's Carlos Gomez.


Nationals: Max Scherzer faces the Pirates for the first time since tossing the first no-hitter of his career against Pittsburgh last month. Scherzer struck out 10 and came within a strike of a perfect game a 6-0 win on June 20, his only misstep coming when he hit Pittsburgh pinch-hitter Jose Tabata in the elbow with two outs in the ninth.

Pirates: Jeff Locke (5-6, 4.01 ERA) has a 2.53 ERA in two starts against Washington, both non-decisions.

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