PITTSBURGH -- Francisco Liriano was the ace of the Pirates staff last season but this season has been a much different story as he has not been nearly as effective or efficient and entered today without a win and an ERA nearing five.
That didn't improve today as Liriano gave up a double to start the top of the first inning and never really settled down or found his control or quality stuff.
And the result of Liriano's ineffectiveness, combined with his teammates inability to string hits together and score some runs, was a disappointing 5-2 loss to Nationals in the finale of a four-game series before a crowd of 38,047 at PNC Park.
The Pirates (22-27) were hoping to earn their first series sweep of the season but the loss not only prevented that from happening, it snapped their season-high four-game losing streak.
Liriano, who fell to 0-5 and has now seen his ERA balloon to 5.06, didn't really give the Pirates much of a chance as he gave up two runs in the first inning and struggled in three of the five innings he lasted.
His pitching line -- five innings, six hits, four runs (all earned), five strikeouts, four walks and two wild pitches -- wasn't pretty and it could have been worse as Pedro Alvarez made an excellent diving catch of a sharply hit line drive to end the first inning and save at least one run.
Denard Span led off the game with a double to right field and Anthony Rendon walked and after Jaysen Werth struck out, Span and Rendon moved up to third and second on a ground out by Adam LaRoche.
Span then scored on a wild pitch by Liriano and Rendon scored on a single by Ian Desmond, who had two hits and drove in two runs, and the Nationals led 2-0 before the Pirates even got a chance to bat.
Then in the fifth, Span, who was 2-for-5 and scored twice, got things started again as he led off the inning with a single and scored on Rendon's triple and then Rendon scored on yet another wild pitch by Liriano and the Nationals led 4-0 heading into the bottom of the fifth.
Meanwhile, Nationals pitcher Doug Fister did a good job of keeping the Pirates at arm's length as he cruised through the first four innings with little trouble and got pinch hitter Jose Tabata to ground into an inning-ending double play in the fifth to escape his first jam.
The Pirates finally got to Fister in the bottom of the 6th as Josh Harrison led the inning off with a homer and Neil Walker and Ike Davis followed with singles to force a pitching change.
Craig Stammen then relived Fister and he got Starling Marte to bounce into an inning-ending double play to keep the Nationals in front, 4-1.
The Nationals (25-25) used three singles to push the lead back to four runs, 5-1, in the top of the 7th and then held on for the win.
Fister (2-1) lasted 51/3 innings and gave up six hits and one run (earned) and struck out four and gave the Nationals the kind of performance they needed in order to avoid being swept.
The Pirates got a run back in the 8th when Harrison and Neil Walker hit one-out singles and then after Andrew McCutchen struck out, Ike Davis singled to drive in Harrison, who was 2-for-4 and scored twice.
That left the Pirates with runners at first and third with two out and the potential game-tying run in Starling Marte stepping up to the plate but Marte struck out to end the inning and the rally.
Davis was 2-for-4 and Walker had three hits but it was not enough as the Pirates weren't able to get that big hit to break open an inning and get back into the game.
The Pirates now hit the road for a tough 10-game road trip that touches both coasts as they will face the Mets, Dodgers and Padres.
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