Taylor’s homer, 3 RBIs help Nationals beat Pirates 9-3

PITTSBURGH (AP) Ian Desmond is doing his best to put a miserable first half behind him.

The shortstop homered for the third straight game, while rookie center fielder Michael Taylor had a home run and three RBIs and Gio Gonzalez won his fourth straight decision to lead the Washington Nationals to a 9-3 victory over the Pittsburgh Pirates on Saturday night.

Desmond’s two-run shot off rookie reliever Deolis Guerra in the seventh gave Washington breathing room by increasing its lead to 7-3.

He has 11 homers and is 10-for-19 during a six-game hitting streak, lifting his batting average to .222. He went hitless in 16 at bats in his previous five games.

”He’s still the same Ian Desmond I’ve known since high school,” said Gonzalez, who grew up in the Fort Lauderdale, Florida, area while Desmond hails from across the state in Sarasota.

Taylor capped the scoring with a two-run homer, his seventh, in the eighth inning off rookie Arquimedes Caminero. He was 4 for 5.

”I like this ballpark,” Taylor said of PNC Park. ”There’s a lot of room to run around here. It’s a fun place to play.”

Gonzalez (8-4) lasted just five-plus innings and gave up three runs, one earned, and five hits with no walks and five strikeouts. Yet the left-hander stayed unbeaten in his last five starts and improved to 4-0 lifetime against the Pirates.

”The training staff really helped me out, giving me fluids and keeping me afloat,” Gonzalez said. ”Then the rest of guys really picked me, playing great defense and getting big hits from one through eight in the order.”

The Nationals’ Yunel Escobar had three hits, including two doubles, after sitting out the previous two games with a sore left wrist.

A.J. Burnett (8-4) had another rocky outing. He was tagged for five runs and 11 hits in 5 2/3 innings with no walks and eight strikeouts. Burnett beat the Royals on Monday at Kansas City despite allowing six runs in six innings.

”Yeah, I got strikeouts but strikeouts don’t win ballgames,” Burnett said. ”You’ve got to keep the ball in the lanes and in the corners, and I left too many balls over the middle, especially to left-handers.”

The Nationals needed the late homers after the Pirates scored three runs in the sixth inning to knock Gonzalez from the game and draw to 5-3 on RBI singles by Starling Marte, Andrew McCutchen and Francisco Cervelli, who had two hits.

Anthony Rendon’s sacrifice fly in the top of the sixth had given the Nationals a 5-0 lead.

Desmond scored the game’s first run in the second inning on a wild pitch, then Gonzalez and Taylor hit RBI singles in a two-run third.

In the fifth, Bryce Harper doubled and scored on a single by Clint Robinson to push the lead to 4-0. Harper extended his streak of reaching base to 22 straight games.

TRAINER’S ROOM

Nationals: Rendon was activated from the disabled list after missing 25 games with a left quadriceps strain and went 0-for-4 with the sac fly.

Pirates: INF Justin Sellers, who has been out all season with a sore right Achilles tendon, had his rehab assignment transferred to Triple-A Indianapolis from the rookie-level Gulf Coast League.

ON THE BENCH

Pirates first baseman Pedro Alvarez was not in the lineup despite homering in each of the first two games of the series, though he enter the game in the sixth inning as part of a double switch. He singled off Gonzalez after having been 0-for-6 with four strikeouts against him.

PROSPECT NEWS

Right-hander Lucas Giolito, considered one of the top pitching prospects in baseball, was promoted by the Nationals to Double-A Harrisburg. The 21-year-old went 3-5 with a 2.71 ERA in 13 games with Single-A Potomac.

UP NEXT: Gerrit Cole (13-4, 2.31), who leads the major leagues in wins, will try to become the first Pirates pitcher with 14 victories before the end of July since Dock Ellis in 1971. He faces rookie Joe Ross (2-2, 2.70).