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Nationals cruise to sweep with rout of Bucs

WASHINGTON -- A nine-run first inning was a bit excessive the way Gio Gonzalez pitched, but the Nationals used the two in tandem to beat the Pirates, 9-2, and complete a three-game sweep on Sunday at Nationals Park.

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"Everybody says we're struggling, but I don't think as a team that we're struggling," said Bryce Harper. "We're doing pretty dang good. We just played great ball and had some great pitching this weekend. If we can do that, we'd win 162 games."

The Pirates, swept for the first time since May 1-3, managed just three runs over the three games. They struck out 11 times Friday night against rookie Joe Ross, were no-hit Saturday by Max Scherzer and mustered four hits off Gonzalez on Sunday.

The Nationals were 6-11 in June coming into the series and had not won a set since May 25-27 in Chicago. They outscored the Pirates 19-3 in the series.

"I don't think things are wrong. We just had a tough series," said Pirates manager Clint Hurdle. "It was not a good day. Nothing we tried in that first inning worked. After that first, we got out of this as cleanly as you could hope."

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That didn't take long: Charlie Morton entered Sunday with a 1.62 ERA. He left, two outs after his sixth start of the season began, with it sitting at 3.97. The Nationals sent 12 men to the plate in the first inning, producing nine runs on eight hits -- Harper and Yunel Escobar each homered. The nine runs were the most the Nationals have ever scored in a first inning and tied for the most they've scored in any frame.

"Yeah, they both are swinging well," manager Matt Williams said of Harper and Escobar. "They have been all season, really. But both have maintained approach and taken what the pitchers have given them and, of course, they both hit homers today -- that's not going to happen every day, but the at-bats in between the homers are good: walks, on-base percentage, run-scoring base hits are important." More >

Video: [email protected]: Nats plate nine runs in the 1st inning

Worley does his part: The Pirates certainly weren't saving Vance Worley for hopeless games. But when they came, he was ready. After having thrown only one previous pitch all month, the veteran righty got to work the final two innings of Saturday's no-hit loss, then saved the staff with 4 1/3 more shutout innings in Sunday's rout.

"On top of having a Major League skill set, he's got big guts," Hurdle said gratefully. "Big guts. Go pitch [Saturday] and you come back and give us that kind of effort … talk about picking the team up."

Video: [email protected]: Worley strikes out five in relief outing

Hit this: After Gonzalez pitched seven scoreless innings, the ball went to left-handed reliever Matt Thornton for the eighth. Thornton allowed a single but nothing else, marking the 24th consecutive inning that Nationals pitchers didn't allow a run. That streak set a new team record but ended one inning later when Corey Hart smashed a two-run home run with two outs in the ninth.

"It's not hard," Clint Robinson said when asked what it is like to play defense behind such impressive pitching. "Striking out a lot of guys and not a lot of hard contact. When those guys go out there and do that, we're going to win a lot of ballgames when they do that." More >

Video: [email protected]: Gonzalez tosses seven scoreless innings

"I was just tired of 'Maxi' trying to be No. 1 hitting. Finally bumped up somewhere in that ranking of pitchers than can hit. I was just happy. I was looking for him the whole way. I completely forgot to look at the right fielder. I was like looking at him, and all of a sudden I was like, 'What are you doing?' And it turned and went in the corner and I was like, 'I'm going to get this ... I don't care, Max is not going to beat me on a base hit. I'm going to go up there and try and get a double.'"
-- Gonzalez, on his first-inning RBI double

Video: [email protected]: Gonzalez helps himself with an RBI double

The Pirates entered Washington having outscored foes 32-13 in their last 11 games. After a run in the second inning of Friday night's series opener, the Bucs allowed 17 unanswered runs the next 24 innings, up to Hart's homer in the ninth.

Pirates: After a Monday off-day to recover from their tough Washington visit, the Bucs will make a brief return to intradivisional play at PNC Park when lefty Jeff Locke faces the Reds in Tuesday's 7:05 p.m. ET opener of a three-game series.

Nationals: After an off-day Monday, the Braves come to town for a three-game set. They are 5-1 versus the Braves in 2015. The Nationals haven't announced Tuesday's starter, but it's been speculated that Stephen Strasburg will return from the disabled list to make the start.

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Jacob Emert is an associate reporter for Tom Singer is a reporter for and writes an MLBlog Change for a Nickel. He can also be found on Twitter @Tom_Singer and on his podcast.