SAN FRANCISCO -- Thanks to a three-run second inning against Johnny Cueto, the Nationals took a three-run lead into the ninth, but the Giants didn't go quietly and chased closer Jonathan Papelbon before Washington was able to lock down a 4-2 series-opening win on Thursday night at AT&T Park.The Nationals
SAN FRANCISCO -- Thanks to a three-run second inning against Johnny Cueto, the Nationals took a three-run lead into the ninth, but the Giants didn't go quietly and chased closer Jonathan Papelbon before Washington was able to lock down a 4-2 series-opening win on Thursday night at AT&T Park.
The Nationals used RBI base hits from Danny Espinosa, Tanner Roark and Trea Turner to post their early three-spot, and Bryce Harper snapped his 0-for-19 skid with an RBI double in the sixth to make it 4-1. That was enough support for Roark to pick up his 10th win, as the right-hander held the Giants to one run on four hits in seven innings.
"Those timely hits are what win games for you, and that's what won the game for them," said Giants manager Bruce Bochy.
Cueto, who started for the National League in the All-Star Game, lasted fewer than six innings for the second time in three starts since the break. San Francisco went 16-2 when the first-year Giant started in the first half, but is 1-2 behind the righty since.
"Unfortunately, nothing went my way," said Cueto, who threw 101 pitches in five innings. "You try to do your best, and sometimes it is very frustrating that you can't throw strikes."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Papelbon's early hook: Papelbon entered the day having allowed six earned runs on six hits in his last two outings, including a blown save Tuesday night in Cleveland. After a day off on Wednesday, Papelbon came on in the ninth hoping to pick up his 20th save, but the righty allowed a one-out bloop single and walked the next batter. That forced manager Dusty Baker to pull his struggling closer in favor of lefty Oliver Pérez.
"We had to do what we had to do to win the ballgame," Baker said. "I'm sure Pap didn't like it, but I'm sure he understands."
Perez issued a walk, allowed a run to score on an error by Espinosa and then got a huge strikeout of Denard Span. Shawn Kelley relieved Perez and recorded the final out by striking out Ángel Pagán.
"Basically just sitting down there waiting to see if Dusty pokes his head out of the dugout," Kelley said. "And when he did, I knew it was my turn. It's really all I can do: Be ready." More >
Giants' bats fall mute: The Giants entered the day batting .157 with runners in scoring position since the All-Star break. Those struggles continued in the second inning after they loaded the bases with nobody out. Mac Williamson struck out, Conor Gillaspie grounded out to first and Cueto flied out to end the inning. The only run they scored occurred when Gillaspie's grounder brought Buster Posey home.
"Eventually, the bat spell is going to end," said Cueto. "That's nothing new. Every team goes through a bat spell like we're going through right now, but eventually it will end." More >
Two-out hittin': Baker has often lamented the Nationals' lack of two-out hits this season, but they were able to string together some two-out offense on Thursday night. Washington collected eight two-out hits, including four consecutive singles off Cueto in their three-run second. The eight two-out hits matched their season-high (April 15 at Philadelphia), according to STATS.com.
"That's big because usually you don't see that many hits anymore and you don't see that many hits off Cueto," Baker said.
Another opportunity squandered: The Giants loaded the bases again in the bottom of the ninth with one out. Brandon Belt started the rally with a bloop single and Williamson and Trevor Brown drew walks. Grégor Blanco then tapped a grounder to Nationals third baseman Anthony Rendon, who threw to second for a forceout. However Espinosa dropped the ball, resulting in one run scoring and the bases still being loaded. But the rally halted when Span and Pagan struck out. The Giants are 0-37 when trailing after eight innings this season.
"We did such a good job in the ninth battling back," said Bochy. "Man, we could've used a big hit there."
Nationals:Max Scherzer will look to continue his strong start to the second half when he takes the mound against the Giants on Friday night in the second game of this four-game series. In his two starts since the All-Star break, Scherzer has posted a 1.93 ERA, with 17 strikeouts and just one walk.
Giants: The Giants will turn to Jeff Samardzija on Friday night at 7:15 p.m. PT at AT&T Park. The right-hander, who is looking to record his first quality outing since the All-Star break, is 1-1 with a 5.82 ERA in his last three outings.
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Jamal Collier covers the Nationals for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @jamalcollier.
Justin Wise is a reporter for MLB.com based in the Bay Area who covered the Giants on Thursday.