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Turner, Zim HRs power Nats 5th straight win

Martinez aggressive in utilizing bullpen to seal game
MLB.com @JamalCollier

WASHINGTON -- Even as the Nationals scuffled through the start of the season, playing far below expectations and finishing the month with a losing record, they maintained there was no reason to panic. Manager Dave Martinez maintained a positive face through it all, saying once they began to turn a corner, they would start rattling off victories.

Perhaps that time has come for the Nats, winners of five consecutive games after Thursday's 3-1 victory against the Pirates at Nationals Park completed a four-game sweep. It's their first four-game sweep since July 14-17, 2017.

View Full Game Coverage

WASHINGTON -- Even as the Nationals scuffled through the start of the season, playing far below expectations and finishing the month with a losing record, they maintained there was no reason to panic. Manager Dave Martinez maintained a positive face through it all, saying once they began to turn a corner, they would start rattling off victories.

Perhaps that time has come for the Nats, winners of five consecutive games after Thursday's 3-1 victory against the Pirates at Nationals Park completed a four-game sweep. It's their first four-game sweep since July 14-17, 2017.

View Full Game Coverage

The Nationals won this game because of a pair of key home runs and some aggressive managing by Martinez. He pulled his starter before he could face a lineup for a third time. He asked his closer for a five-out save. It all worked out, and the team has climbed back to .500 for the first time in 10 days and is riding its longest winning streak of the season.

"Now it's starting to turn a little bit," said first baseman Ryan Zimmerman, who launched a solo home run in the sixth. "Now some balls are starting to fall. We're starting to get some big hits when we need to. The pitching's been great all year, we just haven't been giving them any runs. We've just got to go with it, ride the momentum and just keep going as long as we can."

Video: PIT@WSH: Zimmerman belts a solo homer in the 6th

Right-hander Jeremy Hellickson paced the club with 5 2/3 scoreless innings. He surrendered a single with two outs in the sixth when he had thrown only 61 pitches, but Martinez turned to the bullpen rather than allow him to face the Pirates' lineup for a third time. It's a move Martinez has been bold enough to make, even with Hellickson pitching well.

And it paid off. Sammy Solis finished off the sixth inning before a two-run home run from Trea Turner gave the Nats the lead.

After the game, Martinez pointed to the fact that Hellickson missed out on a full Spring Training because he was signed so late, but Hellickson's career numbers signify he has trouble trying to navigate through a lineup for the third time.

"I would've liked a chance to get out of that, but he thought that was best right there," Hellickson said. "I think part of the reason is I didn't get a real Spring Training in and I never really got to six, seven innings before I left Spring Training. So probably taking it a little slow. But we won the game. That's all that matters."

The Washington offensive outburst the past few days has allowed their most valued relievers to get some rest, so the trio of Brandon Kintzler, Ryan Madson and Sean Doolittle, who converted a five-out save, were available to close out the victory.

"It's awesome. They're playing well," Martinez said. "They've been playing well. For us to gather five wins in a row, it's awesome. I just want to keep going, keep playing hard."

MOMENT THAT MATTERED
The Pirates loaded the bases with one out in the eighth inning against Madson, so Martinez turned to Doolittle in a high-leverage situation to escape a bases-loaded jam. Doolittle induced a weak ground ball off the bat of Gregory Polanco, although the Nats were unable to turn the double play in time, allowing a run to score. But Doolittle responded to force a Starling Marte flyout and minimize the damage. It's just the second time in Doolittle's career he has recorded a save of five outs or more. He also accomplished the feat on Sept. 30, 2015.

Video: PIT@WSH: Doolittle gets final five outs for the save

"I think it was important for me just because I haven't done it in a while," Doolittle said. "So, to be put in that situation and to be able to come through for the team is big for me. And to finish off a really good series -- a great team win today -- was huge."

"I don't think I've done that in a while, getting five outs. I [pitched] three games in a row earlier this week, I got five outs today. The training wheels are off, I guess."

HE SAID IT
"I came inside, I put my jacket on to stay warm, even though it was really hot outside. I was standing kind of in the tunnel, by the batting cages. I didn't really want to sit down. I really didn't know what to do. It had been that long since I had gone more than one inning, that I was like, 'Well I know I don't want to sit down.'" -- Doolittle, on keeping himself ready in between the eighth and ninth inning

UP NEXT
So far the National League East is shaping up to be a much tougher division this year than in previous seasons. The Nationals will get their first look at the Phillies this weekend when the two teams begin a three-game series Friday night at Nationals Park. Gio Gonzalez will be on the mound for Washington facing off against Philadelphia right-hander Nick Pivetta. First pitch is at 7:05 p.m. ET.

Jamal Collier has covered the Nationals for MLB.com since 2016. Follow him on Twitter at @jamalcollier.

Washington Nationals, Trea Turner, Ryan Zimmerman