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Revamped top of lineup powers Bucs past Nats

Dickerson, Marte, Polanco, Moran in 1-4 spots set tone for series-opening W
MLB.com @adamdberry

PITTSBURGH -- General manager Neal Huntington made the stakes of this week perfectly clear on Sunday: The Pirates can't afford to be average or worse, as they have been the past seven weeks. With eight games to go before the All-Star break, the Bucs must prove they are a team worth keeping together.

"I do believe we've got a team in there that's well aware of where we are in the season, where we are in the standings, how we've played," manager Clint Hurdle said Monday afternoon. "Our message has always been to go out, work hard to play better baseball today."

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PITTSBURGH -- General manager Neal Huntington made the stakes of this week perfectly clear on Sunday: The Pirates can't afford to be average or worse, as they have been the past seven weeks. With eight games to go before the All-Star break, the Bucs must prove they are a team worth keeping together.

"I do believe we've got a team in there that's well aware of where we are in the season, where we are in the standings, how we've played," manager Clint Hurdle said Monday afternoon. "Our message has always been to go out, work hard to play better baseball today."

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The Pirates passed their first test on Monday night behind the success of a new-look top of the order. Corey Dickerson had two hits and scored twice in his first start as Pittsburgh's leadoff hitter, Starling Marte got on base twice and Gregory Polanco drove in four runs during the Bucs' 6-3 win over the Nationals at PNC Park.

"Played out well. Everybody's on base a couple times," Hurdle said. "There's some usable speed with all three of them, and they can make some things happen. They sure did tonight coming out of the chute. We'll probably revisit it tomorrow."

With Josh Harrison batting seventh and Josh Bell off, Hurdle turned to Dickerson in the leadoff spot for the first time all season. It's a role Dickerson has filled before, so Hurdle was confident he could hold his own.

"It's a comfortable spot for me," Dickerson said.

Dickerson delivered in each of his first two at-bats against Nats starter Jefry Rodriguez, leading off the first with a single to right, advancing to third on Marte's double to left and scoring when Polanco smacked a two-strike changeup to center for an RBI single. Cleanup hitter Colin Moran then pulled an RBI double down the left-field line, giving the Bucs a three-run lead before they recorded an out.

Video: WSH@PIT: Moran plates Polanco with an RBI double

"It doesn't matter if he throws hard, just trying to let it go deep [in the strike zone]," Polanco said. "That's what I've been trying to do, because I don't want to pull the ball every time."

They were back at it in the second inning against Rodriguez, a rally Polanco punctuated with a two-run homer that traveled 412 feet into the right-field seats. After enduring a brutal slump, Polanco has re-emerged as Pittsburgh's best hitter over the past 30 days. In his last 24 games, Polanco is hitting .329/.447/.657 with five home runs, 19 RBIs and 15 walks to 19 strikeouts.

"I feel like I'm in a really good spot," Polanco said. "I've got to keep working hard."

Video: WSH@PIT: Polanco drills a 2-run homer to right field

Coming off a start at Dodger Stadium in which he allowed a franchise-record five homers, Ivan Nova cruised through four innings allowing only one run. The long ball came back to bite him in the fifth and sixth, however, as Juan Soto and Bryce Harper took him deep for a pair of solo shots.

The Pirates turned to their bullpen in the sixth. Richard Rodriguez retired all four hitters he faced and racked up a pair of strikeouts. Edgar Santana struck out the side in the eighth. Closer Felipe Vazquez, a day after being named a National League All-Star, worked around a pair of singles in the ninth.

Video: WSH@PIT: Vazquez induces a double play to record save

"Nova got us to a place in the game that played well for us," Hurdle said. "He had to use everything he had tonight to get to that spot."

The Pirates have bounced back from a five-game losing streak with two straight wins to form just their third winning streak since May 17. They'll need to keep it going the rest of the week. They know the stakes.

"No matter what, you can't control what's going to happen. You've got to focus on playing better baseball," Nova said. "As a player, you see a lot of games left and anything can happen. You've got to be able to play better baseball. You don't worry about anything else, because there's nothing else you can control."

MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Second strike: Nova gave up a run in the second, cutting the Pirates' instant 3-0 lead to two runs. The Pirates responded swiftly. Max Moroff drew a leadoff walk and took second on Nova's sacrifice bunt. Dickerson then laced a two-strike triple past diving right fielder Adam Eaton, bringing home Moroff. After Marte struck out, Polanco hammered a first-pitch changeup 412 feet into the right-field seats, his 13th home run of the season.

Video: WSH@PIT: Dickerson lines RBI triple to right-center

Polanco's successful stretch coincides with the small step he took away from the plate. That's allowed him to see the ball better and extend his arms to hit pitches that might have tied him up before.

"That's when I hit the ball well, when I extend my arms," Polanco said. "My legs are strong. I feel my legs are very strong, so now I'm confident. … It's working really well."

SOUND SMART
Marte stole his 23rd base and recorded his ninth outfield assist of the season. He is tied for the Major League lead in both categories. After a serious June slump and a few days off on the West Coast, Marte has 10 hits, a homer and two doubles in his last 19 at-bats along with five steals over the past four days. He also made a stellar sliding play in center field to rob Anthony Rendon in the fifth inning Monday.

Video: WSH@PIT: Marte makes a tremendous sliding catch

"He got to that spot where the game was hard, and he continued to work," Hurdle said. "That skillset doesn't come along very often, and I think he's much more appreciative of it now than he's ever been."

HE SAID IT
"We talk about that. We've just got to fight. The Nationals, they're a good team. Got to fight. Milwaukee's coming. We've got to fight them. Very important. We've got to get everything together. … Throw everything we've got, and whatever happens, that's it. We've got to give everything we've got this week." -- Polanco, on the week ahead

"I wasn't happy [with the two home runs], but other than that, it felt like a good game. Especially [after] the disaster that happened when I pitched against them in Washington." -- Nova, who allowed eight runs (five earned) on 11 hits in 4 2/3 innings against the Nationals on May 2

Video: WSH@PIT: Nova strikes out Turner to open the game

UP NEXT
Right-hander Joe Musgrove will come off the disabled list to start Tuesday night against the Nationals at PNC Park. Musgrove missed one turn due to a right index finger infection, but his last start was a seven-inning gem against the Padres at Petco Park. Right-hander Jeremy Hellickson will start for the Nats at 7:05 p.m. ET.

Adam Berry has covered the Pirates for MLB.com since 2015. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook and read his blog.

Pittsburgh Pirates, Corey Dickerson, Starling Marte, Colin Moran, Gregory Polanco