GAME IN A NUTSHELL: With Jayson Werth and Ryan Zimmerman already on the DL and Bryce Harper joining them on the bench after suffering a hamstring injury Thursday night, the Nationals lineup faced long odds against A.J. Burnett and a Pirates pitching staff that had been brilliant during their 8-game winning streak.
So, naturally, that lineup pounded out 14 hits against Burnett, providing some much-needed offensive support for a once-again dominant Joe Ross. Wilson Ramos delivered a pair of RBI hits to the big part of the field to give the Nationals an early lead. Danny Espinosa's RBI triple in the seventh added a much-appreciated insurance run.
The rest was up to Ross and the Nats bullpen. The rookie right-hander, making his third career start, was his best to date, striking out 11 while walking only one over 7 1/3 innings. The Nationals' relief corps then finished things off, with David Carpenter turning in his fourth straight scoreless appearance since joining the roster and Drew Storen notching his 20th save in 21 tries to seal the win.
HITTING HIGHLIGHT: Friday night's lineup — especially once you got past the 1-2-3 hitters — was far from an imposing-looking bunch. What they lacked in pedigree, though, they made up for in tenacity. That group managed to string together 14 hits off Burnett, and though they didn't take advantage of every opportunity, they took advantage of just enough. Ramos had perhaps the two biggest hits: an RBI double to right-center in the bottom of the first and an RBI single to left-center in the bottom of the third. Both were well-struck line drives to the big part of the field. When Ramos is hitting that way, it's a really encouraging sign.
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PITCHING HIGHLIGHT: What more can be said about Ross? He has been nothing short of a godsend for the Nationals over the last two weeks. You thought his 8-inning start in Milwaukee was impressive? How about this one: 7 1/3 innings of 1-run, 11-strikeout, 1-walk ball against a good Pittsburgh lineup. Three starts into his career, Ross now has 23 strikeouts and only two walks. With Stephen Strasburg on track to return from the DL early next week (most likely Tuesday against the Braves) Ross' time in the big-league rotation is probably about to end. Whatever ends up happening, he has shown the Nats he deserves another shot sometime, whether later this season or beyond.
KEY STAT: Andrew McCutchen had struck out only 18 times in 147 career plate appearances against the Nationals entering Friday. Then Ross and Storen struck him out three times in four at-bats.
UP NEXT: Strikeouts should be aplenty Saturday afternoon when two of the league's best whiff artists go head-to-head. Max Scherzer (7-5, 1.93 ERA, 113 Ks) faces the Pirates' Francisco Liriano (4-5, 2.94 ERA, 99 Ks) at 4:05 p.m. EDT.