Pirates-Nationals Preview

Even without Bryce Harper, the Washington Nationals showed signs of breaking out of their home slump while putting an end to their longest skid there in two years.

They aren’t likely to need a major scoring outburst with Max Scherzer on the mound.

As Scherzer looks to build on a historic outing, the Nationals will try to win back-to-back games for only the second time in almost a month Saturday against the visiting Pittsburgh Pirates.

Washington (35-33) batted .205 while totaling eight runs during a four-game slide at Nationals Park that marked the club’s worst since a six-game skid in July 2013.

The Nationals, however, ended that losing streak while matching a season high at home with 14 hits in Friday’s 4-1 victory. Still, they left runs on the field by going 4 for 17 with runners in scoring position.

Denard Span was one of five players with two hits, leaving him 15 for 39 (.385) over his last nine games.

Now the Nationals could again be without Harper, who strained his left hamstring Thursday. The star right fielder may have to go on the disabled list if he’s slow to recover from the injury.

Washington, though, may not need much offense to win consecutive games for only the second time during a 8-15 stretch that dates to May 26. Scherzer (7-5, 1.93 ERA) ranks among NL ERA leaders while limiting opponents to one or no runs in nine of 13 starts.

After losing his previous two, the two-time All-Star got back on track Sunday when he allowed one hit while striking out a career-high and Nationals-record 16 in a complete-game 4-0 win at Milwaukee. Scherzer was a broken-bat single in the seventh inning and a walk in the eighth away from perfection.

"I was able to execute every pitch for the most part when I wanted to," he told MLB’s official website. "When you’ve got a good catcher who can sequence it, and we make some good plays out there, and get some timely hits, it’s a recipe for how to win ball games."

The right-hander is 3-2 with a 3.00 ERA in six career starts versus Pittsburgh (39-28). He allowed three hits and fanned 14 over eight shutout innings in a 5-2 win last August in his only meeting since 2012.

Andrew McCutchen has gone 4 for 14 with a home run against him, but Francisco Cervelli, Pedro Alvarez and Josh Harrison are a combined 1 for 22 with 10 strikeouts.

The Pirates’ eight-game winning streak ended Friday when they managed just six hits and went 1 for 6 with runners in scoring position. They’ve scored three runs or less in 10 of their last 12.

Gregory Polanco was 2 for 3 and drove in the only run Friday before leaving when he banged into the right field wall trying to make a catch. Manager Clint Hurdle said the move was precautionary.

Pittsburgh hopes to break out offensively for Francisco Liriano (4-5, 2.94), who has been on a roll. He allowed two hits and struck out 12 over eight innings in Monday’s 11-0 home win over the White Sox.

"I wanted to make sure to go out there and make good pitches, attack the zone," said Liriano, who is 3-1 with a 1.29 ERA over his last five starts.

The veteran left-hander is 1-1 with a 2.84 mark in two career outings against the Nationals. Anthony Rendon is 2 for 4 with a triple off him, while Span is 4 for 9 with a double.