Nationals’ Harper hopes to lead way again vs. Pirates

WASHINGTON — The Nationals are beginning to look like themselves again.

Washington will go for its fourth straight victory Wednesday night behind Stephen Strasburg when they host the Pittsburgh Pirates in the third contest of a four-game set.

The defending National League East champions bashed four home runs, Max Scherer won his fifth straight start and the Nationals defeated the Pirates for the second straight night Tuesday 12-4.

Bryce Harper, hitting in the leadoff spot for the first time since 2013, smacked a three-run homer — his ninth of the season — and drew his league-leading 39th walk. He was 6-or-35 in the 12 games prior to Tuesday night.

“Why not?” Martinez told MLB.com before the game regarding the move. “He’s a little frustrated and hopefully he gets some more pitches to hit.”

Matt Adams homered twice and Wilmer Difo also went deep as Washington improved to 14-16.

It is Washington’s first three-game winning streak since they started the season 4-0.

“I think it all starts in that manager’s office every night,” Harper told MLB.com. “He believes in our team. He believes in us as a group, and we believe in him as well. He’s one of the best managers I’ve ever been around.”

Pittsburgh (17-13), which had won five straight before arriving in the Nation’s Capital, got homers from Corey Dickerson and Max Moroff. Chad Kuhl (3-2) allowed six runs (four earned) in 4 2/3 innings and gave up four home runs.

“He got three fastballs in hot zones,” manager Clint Hurdle told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette of Kuhl, “and a slider that didn’t really break.”

Scherzer struck out eight in 6 1/3 innings.

“He’s one of those guys where your eyes light up, that’s a pitch in the zone that I’m looking for, and you swing and you foul it off,” Josh Bell told the Post-Gazette. “Somehow, some way, it misses your barrel.”

Strasburg (2-3, 3.63 ERA) will be looking for his first win since April 10. Over his last three starts, he has allowed 11 runs in 14 innings.

Against the Diamondbacks on April 27, he allowed five runs on six hits in a loss. Arizona’s A.J. Pollock had three hits, including a second-inning solo homer that gave the Diamondbacks the early lead.

“Yeah, I mean I made my pitch,” Strasburg told the Washington Post. “It’s just kind of how it’s going right now. I’m not going to nitpick it too much. It’s just something where you tip your cap and learn from that as well.”

Strasburg is 5-2 with a 2.38 ERA in eight starts against the Pirates. Starling Marte is 5-for-15 with a home run and two RBIs versus Strasburg.

Pittsburgh’s Ivan Nova (2-1, 3.32) threw eight shutout innings last time out but took a no-decision in a 1-0 win over the Tigers.

“Nova was Nova today. When you see guys swinging and you see he’s pitching in the eighth with 70-something pitches, that’s Nova,” catcher Francisco Cervelli told MLB.com. “Make people swing. Keep the ball down. Be able to control corners and read hitters. That’s him. He’s getting better and better. He’s back.”

After two shaky outings to start the season, Nova has been solid in his last four starts, lowering his ERA from 6.10 to 3.32. He has 23 strikeouts and zero walks during that span.

Nova is 1-1 with a 3.29 ERA in three starts versus Washington. Matt Wieters is 13-for-39 with four homers and seven RBIs against Nova.