Marte leads Pittsburgh Pirates to 2-0 win over Washington Nationals

Pittsburgh Pirates' Starling Marte, left, is greeted by Gregory Polanco (25) as he returns to the dugout after hitting a two-run home run off Washington Nationals starting pitcher Gio Gonzalez in the third inning of a baseball game in Pittsburgh, Wednesday, July 11, 2018. The Pirates won 2-0. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

PITTSBURGH — Starling Marte did not start any of the first three games of July because Pirates manager Clint Hurdle felt his slumping center fielder needed a mental break.

The strategy worked, even if Marte still doesn’t agree with it.

Marte hit a two-run home run and Trevor Williams combined with four relievers on a five-hitter as Pittsburgh beat the Washington Nationals 2-0 on Wednesday.

Marte homered to deep center field, his 11th, with two outs in the third off Gio Gonzalez after Jordy Mercer led off the inning with the first of his two doubles. That was enough to give the Pirates just their third win in nine games.

Since returning to the lineup, Marte has a least a hit in all seven games, going 12 for 26 (.462).

“Personally, I don’t think it’s to my benefit to have days off,” Marte said through a translator. “I like to play every day, but I do realize there are pros to having days off and I’ve been reaping the benefits of it over the last week.”

“It gave him some time to work of his (hitting) approach and iron some things out,” Hurdle said. “He hit the reset button, got a fresh start.”

Williams (7-7) won for just the second time in his past 10 starts, giving up four hits with three strikeouts and three walks. He is 2-5 with a 6.26 ERA in that span after going 5-2 with a 2.72 ERA in his first nine outings.

“The ball seemed to be coming out of my hand better,” Williams said. “I was executing pitches. That’s always the key, whether you throw 101 (mph) or 85. You have to execute pitches to be successful.”

Gonzalez (6-6) remained winless since May 28 despite allowing just two runs, six hits and one walk while striking out four. The left-hander is 0-4 in his past eight starts.

Though disappointed by the outcome, Gonzalez was heartened by his performance.

“That’s a great, great start for me in the right direction,” he said. “This is one of those games you want to put behind you and move forward, but for me, this is a personal step forward and I love that.”

Washington (46-46) lost for the 11th time in 16 games and fell back to .500, scoring 20 runs in the losses and 57 runs in the wins. The Nationals entered the season as favorites to win a third consecutive NL East title.

“Consistency is the name of the game,” first-year manager Dave Martinez said. “The one day we hit, we score a lot. One day, we don’t.”

Richard Rodriguez, Edgar Santana, Kyle Crick and Felipe Vazquez followed Williams with one scoreless inning each. Vazquez earned his 20th save in 24 opportunities.

“I thought (Williams) probably had one more inning in him, but I liked the matchups with our bullpen and thought that was the best way to win the game,” Hurdle said.

Pittsburgh’s David Freese had two hits.


A new shipment of bats was in the clubhouse when Nationals CF Bryce Harper arrived at the ballpark, a day after striking out four times in a 5-1 loss on Tuesday.

The bats didn’t help much, though, as Harper went 0 for 2 with two walks and a strikeout. His batting average is now .213, though he has 22 home runs.

“Don’t let the batting average fool you,” Williams said. “He can hit the ball out of the ballpark at any time.”


Nationals: RHP Stephen Strasburg (right shoulder inflammation) is scheduled for a second rehab start Sunday with a team to be determined. Strasburg threw 57 pitches in 3 1/3 innings Tuesday night for Class A Potomac and his fastball topped out at 98 mph. … 1B Ryan Zimmerman (strained right oblique) is likely to begin a rehab assignment Monday.

Pirates: RHP Chad Kuhl (strained right forearm) was examined by New York Mets medical director Dr. David Altchek in New York and advised not to throw for four weeks. … There is no timetable for the return of INF/OF Sean Rodriguez (strained right quadriceps), who is on a rehab assignment at Triple-A Indianapolis.


Nationals: RHP Max Scherzer (11-5, 2.33 ERA) is scheduled to start Thursday night against Mets LHP Steven Matz (4-6, 3.31) in the opener of a four-game series at New York. Scherzer ended a four-game losing streak Saturday when he beat Miami, allowing four runs in seven innings.

Pirates: Open an unusual five-game series against visiting Milwaukee as RHP Jameson Taillon (5-7, 4.05) opposes LHP Wade Miley (1-0, 1.42). Taillon is 1-4 against the Brewers.


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