WASHINGTON -- For right-hander Stephen Strasburg, 13 proved to be a lucky number as the Nationals defeated the Pirates, 5-1, at Nationals Park on Friday night.Strasburg scattered three hits over eight innings of one-run ball, improving to a historic 13-0. Strasburg is the third National League starting pitcher to start
WASHINGTON -- For right-hander Stephen Strasburg, 13 proved to be a lucky number as the Nationals defeated the Pirates, 5-1, at Nationals Park on Friday night.
Strasburg scattered three hits over eight innings of one-run ball, improving to a historic 13-0. Strasburg is the third National League starting pitcher to start a season 13-0, and the first since Giants left-hander Rube Marquard opened the 1912 campaign 18-0. Strasburg joins Dave McNally, Ron Guidry, Roger Clemens and teammate Max Scherzer as the only pitchers in the expansion era (1961-present) to win 13 straight decisions to start a season.
• Strasburg on a new level
Strasburg's personal winning streak sits at 16 games (dating back to Sept. 15, 2015), a franchise best. The streak trails only that of right-hander Firpo Marberry for the longest streak by a starting pitcher in D.C.-baseball history.
The score was tied at 1 when the Nationals scored four runs in the seventh inning. With runners on first and third, Strasburg helped himself by bunting in front of Pirates reliever Neftalí Feliz. Danny Espinosa, who was at third, hesitated coming home, but as soon as Feliz threw to first baseman David Freese, Espinosa raced home. Strasburg was safe at first because Freese never touched the base.
"I missed the signs for the previous at-bat. I didn't get the bunt down. I was pretty upset with myself," Strasburg said. "That situation [in the seventh], I was telling myself, 'I was going to stick in there. I wasn't going to walk away without getting the bunt down.'"
Clint Robinson went to third on a wild pitch by Feliz and scored the third run of the game on a throwing error by catcher Eric Fryer. Two batters later, Michael Taylor hit a two-run homer.
Pirates left-hander Francisco Liriano was matching Strasburg for most of the night. He pitched four shutout innings until the Nationals were able to get to him in the fifth, when Wilson Ramos scored on an RBI single by Robinson. Despite allowing two runs in the seventh inning, Liriano finished with his first quality start in nearly two months.
"I was more consistent with my mechanics and not trying to do too much," Liriano said. "Just execute my mechanics and make sure I stay back and not rush forward too quick."
The Pirates scored their only run in the fifth inning on an RBI single by Jordy Mercer.
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Eight is enough for Stras: Strasburg's eight-inning outing was his longest this season. He held Pittsburgh hitless until the fifth inning when he allowed a single to Starling Marte, who scored on the Mercer single. Strasburg finished with six strikeouts and two walks.
"I was able to get away with some pitches, get the pitch count down. I felt pretty good," Strasburg said.
Manager Dusty Baker was going to let Strasburg go the distance until he ran into trouble in the eighth inning.
"His pitch count got up there," Baker said. "At that point, we have a fresh bullpen. We have a day off Monday, it's hot out there. Everything was leaning toward [Shawn] Kelley."
Bunt gone bad: What should have been a relatively harmless Strasburg sacrifice bunt in the seventh inning turned into a disaster for the Pirates, leading to a four-run inning.
Though manager Clint Hurdle said he thought Feliz should have faked toward Espinosa or thrown to third to trap him, the pitcher said he handled the play appropriately.
"I tried to do what I was taught to do, which is get the bunt and guarantee the first out," Feliz said. "Unfortunately it didn't work out like that, but I did what I was taught to do." More >
Robinson comes through: After Daniel Murphy was scratched because of a leg injury, Robinson stepped in and went 2-for-4 with an RBI. Robinson was informed during batting practice that he would be in the starting lineup.
Walks again doom Liriano: Liriano pitched fairly well, allowing only five hits and three runs in six-plus innings, but he was once again doomed by poor control, particularly in the late innings. The man who entered the night leading the Majors in walk rate (13.5 percent) issued four free passes to the Nationals, including a pivotal one to Espinosa in the seventh. Friday was Liriano's eighth start this season in which he walked at least four batters. On the positive side, it was also his first time lasting into the seventh inning since May 18.
"I thought he took some more steps forward," Hurdle said. "He pitched a very competitive ballgame, and it's nice to see him move deeper into the game."
"He was fantastic. He is taking it to a new level now. Every time out, he has a chance to do something special. Tonight was another example of it." -- Robinson, on Strasburg
Pirates: The Pirates get their ace back when they face the Nationals on Saturday at 7:05 p.m. ET in the second game of a three-game series. Gerrit Cole will return to the mound after missing a month with triceps soreness. The righty has a 2.77 ERA on the season, best in the Pirates' rotation.
Nationals: After bouncing between starting and relieving last season, the steady Tanner Roark has become an integral part of the Nationals' rotation. He sports a 3.01 ERA and has lasted at least seven innings in seven of his last nine starts, entering Saturday's matchup with Cole.
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Bill Ladson has covered the Nationals/Expos for MLB.com since 2002 and writes an MLBlog, All Nats All the Time. He also can be found on Twitter @WashingNats.
Alex Putterman is a reporter for MLB.com based in Washington.