WASHINGTON -- The NL East champion Washington Nationals began their last -- and meaningless -- series of the regular season without a sore Bryce Harper and with a blown save by closer Sean Doolittle in what became a 5-4 victory Thursday night over the Pittsburgh Pirates, whose starting pitcher, Ivan Nova, left after getting hit by a pitch on his throwing hand while batting.
Howie Kendrick, a possible starter instead of Jayson Werth in left field when Washington opens its NL Division Series against the reigning World Series champion Chicago Cubs on Oct. 6, was taken out in the third inning after diving to try to catch a sinking liner. The Nationals did not immediately announce whether Kendrick was injured.
Doolittle was 21 for 21 in save opportunities for the Nationals since arriving from the Oakland Athletics in a trade in July, but he blew chance No. 22 with all of two pitches. The lefty came on for the ninth with a 4-2 lead but promptly allowed a leadoff single to Andrew McCutchen on his first pitch, then Josh Bell's 26th homer on his next.
But Washington won it in the bottom of the ninth on Alejandro De Aza's run-scoring single off Daniel Hudson (2-7). That made a winner of Doolittle (1-0).
De Aza entered as a pinch hitter in the third to replace Kendrick, who came up just short of a grab on a headfirst dive in the top of that inning. De Aza also delivered an RBI triple in the seventh.
Harper returned from the disabled list this week after missing 42 games because of a hyperextended left knee. He played Tuesday and Wednesday, then sat out Thursday because he felt "a little sore." Manager Dusty Baker said it was nothing to be "alarmed" about.
With nothing at stake for his team -- or the long-ago-eliminated Pirates, for that matter -- Baker gave other regulars a day off, including first baseman Ryan Zimmerman, shortstop Trea Turner and catcher Matt Wieters.
In the third, Nova was plunked on his right hand while squaring up to bunt against Edwin Jackson. The Pirates wound up taking a 2-1 lead in that inning on RBI hits by Christopher Bostick and Starling Marte. It was on Marte's shot to left that Kendrick made his dive.
While Washington is locked into the NL's second seed, the Pirates are guaranteed of finishing with a losing record. And there's no mystery about any major offseason change of direction for Pittsburgh, because manager Clint Hurdle and GM Neal Huntington both signed four-year contract extensions in early September.
Nova's season ended with him in the batter's box, instead of on the pitcher's mound. His stats from his last start of 2017: two innings, one run, four hits, two strikeouts, one walk, one wild pitch. He went 11-14 this season. ... Jackson allowed two runs in six innings. He was 5-6 for Washington and is not expected to be in the postseason rotation.
NOT SO FAST
Nationals RF Victor Robles, a 20-year-old rookie, appeared to have collected the first stolen base of his career in the fifth inning. But the Pirates asked for a review of the play, and Robles was ruled out because he briefly came off the bag at second.
OF Daniel Johnson is Washington's minor league player of the year; RHP Wander Suero earned minor league pitcher of the year honors.
Nationals RHP Stephen Strasburg (14-4, 2.68 ERA) makes his last pre-playoffs tuneup start, facing Pirates RHP Gerrit Cole (12-11, 4.23 ERA).