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Kearns helps Nationals win their season-high fourth in a row

CBSSports.com wire reports
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WASHINGTON -- Now that the Washington Nationals have started to win, they're doing it with a little variety. One night after persevering in a 12-inning marathon, they needed only 2 hours, 4 minutes to sprint past the Pittsburgh Pirates.

One thing both victories had in common: a late game-winning hit. This time it was Austin Kearns, whose two-out RBI single in the eighth inning was the difference in Thursday night's 3-2 victory over the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Kearns broke a 2-2 tie by driving an outside changeup to right off John Grabow (1-1) to score Cristian Guzman, who barely beat the throw from Xavier Nady.

"It's easy to try to do too much right there, and sometimes I've been guilty of that," Kearns said. "So just trying to keep it simple."

The Nationals have won a season-high four straight, including a three-game sweep of the Atlanta Braves. The latest victory was especially promising because Kearns was among several players who had been slumping badly in April.

Kearns was mired in a 2-for-29 skid before going 2-for-4 on Thursday with a run scored in addition to his first RBI in 10 games. The two-hit night raised his average from .182 to .194.

"There's so much more to Austin Kearns than the expectations that the outside world has put on him," manager Manny Acta said. "The expectations were, you know, 40 home runs, 120 RBI, this and that, and I felt they were very high. I think a lot of people underestimate what Austin brings to our club.

"On the field, he's one of the best in right field. He can field, he can throw, he's accurate. He plays hard, no one can accuse him of lollygagging here, ever. He works extremely hard and if you do that, we have a tendency to believe in them, that they're going to come out of any kind of slump they're in."

Luis Ayala (1-1) pitched the eighth to get the victory in a game played at a torrid pace because of fine outings from starting lefties Zach Duke and Odalis Perez, who both remain winless on the season. Jon Rauch worked the ninth for his sixth save, doubling his career total from the start of the season. He's serving as Washington's closer while Chad Cordero nurses an arm injury.

Wil Nieves started the scoring with a two-run single for the Nationals, who have won seven of nine to improve the clubhouse mood after a terrible first three weeks of April. Freddy Sanchez and Ryan Doumit homered for the Pirates, who have lost five of seven.

"It's a tough one for us," said Duke, whose season now consists of four no-decisions and three losses. "I was able to keep them off balance, get a lot of ground balls."

Duke's only miscue came in the second, when he threw a pitch over the fat part of the plate to the No. 8 hitter on a 2-0 count with two men on base and first empty. Nieves grounded the pitch through a drawn-in infield for a two-run single that scored Lastings Milledge and Kearns.

"I caught a little more of the plate than I wanted to, but it's still a ground ball," Duke said. "It just happened to be a little too far to my second baseman's right."

Duke's seven innings matched his longest start of the season. He allowed five hits with two walks and one strikeout. He has now gone nearly a year without a win on the road, his last victory away from home coming against Cincinnati on May 27, 2007.

Perez, still 0-3, has allowed two or fewer runs in six of his seven starters, but his teammates have given him just 10 total runs of support in those six outings.

On Thursday, he retired the first 10 batters he faced. Sanchez was No. 11, belting the ball into the Pirates bullpen in left center in the fourth inning for his first home run of the season. Perez then allowed Doumit's fifth homer -- also to left center -- in the seventh.

Perez, who had not pitched longer than six innings all season, got through seven before being lifted for a pinch hitter. He allowed three hits, struck out four and walked none.

"I'm happy the way I'm performing," Perez said. "I just need to get more luck and to win games. But I'm happy we won."

Notes

  • The Nationals and Pirates will start a left-hander in each of the first three games of the four-game series. The last time there were three consecutive lefty matchups was 1995 in an Aug. 5-7 series between Atlanta and Montreal.
  • Pittsburgh manager John Russell remains confident that LHP Tom Gorzelanny will not miss a start. Gorzelanny left Wednesday's win over the New York Mets with a back problem. "It's just a tight back, that's all," Russell said.
  • Pirates INF Jack Wilson, on the 15-day DL with a strained left calf, was expected to see action at extended spring training Thursday and Friday before reporting to Double-A Altoona on Saturday.
  • The Pirates released RHP Olivo Astacio (Class-A Lynchburg) from the 40-man roster for what the team called "a significant violation of organization policy."
 
Copyright 2014 by STATS LLC and The Associated Press. Any commercial use or distribution without the express written consent of STATS LLC and The Associated Press is strictly prohibited.
 
 
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Players of the Game
Washington

A. Kearns
AB 4
R 1
H 2
HR 0
RBI 1
Pittsburgh

F. Sanchez
AB 4
R 1
H 1
HR 1
RBI 1
 
Pittsburgh Pirates
Nate McLouth, CF4000011 .330
Freddy Sanchez, 2B4111000 .233
Jason Bay, LF4000000 .242
Ryan Doumit, C4111000 .351
Xavier Nady, RF3000010 .327
Adam LaRoche, 1B3000010 .169
Jose Bautista, 3B3010010 .200
Chris Gomez, SS3000001 .250
Zach Duke, P2000010 .083
   a- Nyjer Morgan, PH1000000 .115
    John Grabow, P0000000 .000
Totals3123205  
a-grounded out for Duke in the 8th
Batting
HR - Freddy Sanchez (1, O. Perez), Ryan Doumit (5, O. Perez)
RBI - Freddy Sanchez (11), Ryan Doumit (10)
Team LOB - 2
Pittsburgh Pirates
Zach Duke 7522210 4.79
John Grabow (L,1-1) 1211010 0.64
HBP - N. Johnson (by John Grabow)
Pitches-Strikes - Zach Duke 85-51, John Grabow 21-12
Ground Balls-Fly Balls - Zach Duke 14-6
Batters Faced - Zach Duke 28, John Grabow 6
Washington Nationals
Felipe Lopez, 2B4010002 .262
Cristian Guzman, SS4110001 .293
Ryan Zimmerman, 3B4000002 .225
Nick Johnson, 1B2000101 .217
Lastings Milledge, CF4110013 .264
Austin Kearns, RF4121000 .194
Wily Mo Pena, LF4010002 .204
    Jon Rauch, P0000000 .000
Wil Nieves, C1012100 .400
Odalis Perez, P2000012 .182
   a- Aaron Boone, PH1000001 .259
    Luis Ayala, P0000000 .000
    Willie Harris, LF0000000 .167
Totals3037322  
a-grounded out for O. Perez in the 7th
Batting
SH - Wil Nieves (2)
RBI - Austin Kearns (11), Wil Nieves 2 (6)
2-OUT RBI - Austin Kearns (8)
Team LOB - 7
Fielding
E - Felipe Lopez (2, Misplayed grounder)
Washington Nationals
Odalis Perez 7322042 3.18
Luis Ayala (W,1-1) 1000010 2.76
Jon Rauch (S,6) 1000000 3.77
Pitches-Strikes - Odalis Perez 89-61, Luis Ayala 14-10, Jon Rauch 8-5
Ground Balls-Fly Balls - Odalis Perez 7-10, Luis Ayala 2-1
Batters Faced - Odalis Perez 24, Luis Ayala 4, Jon Rauch 3
Game Information
Attendance - 24723
Game Time - 2:04
Temperature - 69
Umpires - Home - Gary Cederstrom, First Base - Field Culbreth, Second Base - Jim Reynolds, Third Base - Tim Timmons