PITTSBURGH -- The Nationals needed a night like Tuesday where everything falls into place smoothly. Their starting pitcher, Jeremy Hellickson, tossed five scoreless innings. Anthony Rendon put them on the scoreboard first with a two-run home run in the fifth. With help from an aggressive move from manager Dave Martinez,
PITTSBURGH -- The Nationals needed a night like Tuesday where everything falls into place smoothly. Their starting pitcher, Jeremy Hellickson, tossed five scoreless innings. Anthony Rendon put them on the scoreboard first with a two-run home run in the fifth. With help from an aggressive move from manager Dave Martinez, they tacked on three runs to that lead.
Washington's bullpen took care of the rest, as four relievers combined to seal the Nationals' 5-1 victory over the Pirates at PNC Park. After a 50-minute rain delay pushed back the start of the game, the Nats put together their best all-around performance in weeks.
It's one that can provide hope as they climb back over .500 in their fight to get back into the race for the National League East.
"After you lose Game 1, we come out, even the series," second baseman Daniel Murphy said. "We got a chance to win the series tomorrow."
They have a chance because Hellickson turned in his most impressive outing since returning from the DL a few weeks ago. He has battled rust and an illness in his last start, but he finally felt healthy Tuesday night. It showed, as he held the Pirates to just two hits and a walk in five shutout innings.
"It was just good to feel good again," Hellickson said. "The last five days have been pretty rough. I don't really remember much."
Hellickson seemed on track to pitch deeper into this game and help reduce the stress on the bullpen caused by repeated short outings by the Nationals' starters. However, his spot in the lineup came up in the bottom of the fifth with the bases loaded. Sensing a chance for a big inning, Martinez called for Mark Reynolds to pinch-hit.
"You have an opportunity to break open the game right there, so that's what I decided to do," Martinez said.
It paid off, as the Nats scored three runs in the sixth. Adam Eaton singled home a run in between bases-loaded walks drawn by Reynolds and Juan Soto.
"That's just grinding out at-bats," Murphy said. "The pitching staff, Jeremy gave us a chance in the front end, and I thought the bullpen did a great job on the back end."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
The Pirates brought the tying run to the plate in the ninth inning and injected some life into the crowd. With two outs, Pittsburgh summoned Francisco Cervelli to pinch-hit against right-hander Kelvin Herrera, who will slot in as the Nats closer while Sean Doolittle is on the DL, and Herrera got the better of this matchup by striking out Cervelli to seal the win.
One of the most encouraging aspects of this game for the Nats were Murphy's at-bats. He went 4-for-4 with a pair of doubles, before Martinez took him out of the game in the seventh to rest his legs. His second double nearly netted him an RBI, but an on-target relay from right field cut down Matt Adams attempting to score from first base.
After a two-hit game the previous night, Murphy is starting to show positive signs at the plate.
"I saw the ball better today," he said. "I think I saw the ball better today than I did yesterday. I think it's a testament to how hard [assistant hitting coach] Joe Dillon and [hitting coach] Kevin Long have been working with me. It's no secret that I haven't really been super productive so far in my at-bats, but I'm feeling better. Hopefully, I can grind them out myself and do something to help the ballclub each night."
The Nationals close out this series with the Pirates on Wednesday at 12:35 p.m. ET. Washington starter Giovany Gonzalez has been inconsistent over the past month, but the lefty allowed two runs over five innings against the Marlins on Friday. The Nationals are 6-2 in Gonzalez's eight starts vs. the Bucs since 2012. Pittsburgh will send out right-hander Trevor Williams for a game that will be broadcast exclusively on Facebook.
Jamal Collier has covered the Nationals for MLB.com since 2016. Follow him on Twitter at @jamalcollier.