Nationals, Scherzer take aim at Pirates

WASHINGTON — The Washington Nationals could win a third straight game for the first time since opening the season 4-0 when they send ace Max Scherzer out to face the visiting Pittsburgh Pirates on Tuesday night.

The defending National League Cy Young Award winner, Scherzer (5-1, 1.62 ERA) is making a case again this season. He has won four straight decisions, allowing five earned runs in 28 innings, while striking out 40 batters and walking six.

Scherzer has yet to allow more than two earned runs in a start. Last time out, he allowed two runs on five hits in six innings in a rout of the San Francisco Giants.

Thanks to Monday night’s 3-2 victory, Scherzer will be pitching after a win for the first time this season.

Tanner Roark (2-2) threw seven innings of two-run ball — and chipped in an RBI single — and Ian Kintzler got the save in place of Sean Doolittle, who had worked three straight days.

Trea Turner had a double and two singles as the Nationals improved to 13-16 overall and 2-8 in one-run games.

“That was exciting,” Martinez told The Washington Post. “We got to start scoring runs when we can. They’re playing well. They really are. But when we have a chance to put teams away, we have to start putting teams away. We really do.”

Bryce Harper – 5-of-his-last-35 — struck out twice and was intentionally walked twice. He leads the majors with 38 walks and eight free passes in Washington’s injury-diminished lineup.

Help may be close. Third baseman Anthony Rendon (bruised left big toe) participated in a full workout before Monday’s game. He could begin a rehab assignment or perhaps be activated as soon as Tuesday.

“It’s all based right now on what he feels and how he feels,” Martinez told MLB.com. “He says he’s feeling better every day, so if he feels like he should go down and get some at-bats and really test it, that could be a possibility.”

Corey Dickerson hit his third homer of the season, a solo shot, for the Pirates (17-12), who saw their five-game winning streak end.

Jameson Taillon (2-3) allowed three runs in six innings, bouncing back from his last two starts, when he surrendered a combined 12 runs in only 5 1/3 innings.

“Those were really unacceptable, really bad starts. That’s not who I am, that’s not what I’m about,” Taillon told the Pittsburgh Press Gazette.

“I had a good heater tonight. When you have a smooth delivery, the delivery’s intact and the ball’s jumping out.”

Scherzer is 4-2 with a 2.74 ERA in 11 games — 10 starts — versus the Pirates. One of those wins was a the first of his two career no-hitters on June 20, 2015, in Washington.

Pittsburgh will counter with Chad Kuhl (3-1, 5.55 ERA), who has won his last two starts. Against the Tigers on April 25, he allowed three runs and six hits in six innings and tied his career high with eight strikeouts after the Pirates lost the opening game of the doubleheader 13-10.

“He stayed on the gas pedal,” manager Clint Hurdle told MLB.com. “He stayed aggressive tonight, and he gave us a very good start when we needed one.”

Starling Marte is 4-for-14 in his career against Scherzer, Gregory Polanco is 1-for-11 and Francisco Cervelli 1-for-12.