PITTSBURGH — In his first two starts after coming off the disabled list in late June, Washington Nationals starter Jeremy Hellickson allowed 12 runs over 8 2/3 innings.
He reversed that trend in a big way Tuesday night, tossing five innings of two-hit ball in a 5-1 win over the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Hellickson (3-1) struck out three and induced seven ground balls as he was both effective and efficient, finishing his outing at 67 pitches.
"I would've liked to go a little deeper, but we just needed a win," Hellickson said. "So, it's just good to feel good again. These last five days have been pretty rough."
After losing eight of nine, Washington has won four of its last six.
The Nationals could afford to pull Hellickson early thanks to the big lead provided by Anthony Rendon, Daniel Murphy and company.?
In the fifth inning, Rendon hit at two-run homer, his 13th of the season. Murphy contributed a hit to a three-run sixth as part of a 4-for-4 night that included two doubles.
It was a big night for Murphy, who hasn't been able to get his bat going since returning in June from offseason knee surgery. The four-hit outing raised his batting average to a season-high .250.
"It's no secret that I haven't really been super productive so far in my at-bats, but I'm feeling better and hopefully I can grind them out myself and do something to help the ballclub win each night," Murphy said.
Pirates reliever Steven Brault walked in a pair of runs in the sixth and Adam Eaton added on with an RBI single.
Rendon's homer was the only damage against Pirates starter Joe Musgrove (3-4), who struck out a career-high nine over five innings. It was Musgrove's first outing back from a trip to the disabled list for a finger infection. An elevated pitch count, including 27 in the first inning, led to his early exit.
"With the pitch count up, I was getting tired after two innings and working a lot harder than I would have liked to," Musgrove said.
The Pirates loaded the bases in the ninth, but newly installed closer Kelvin Herrera struck out Francisco Cervelli to end it. Herrera will handle the ninth inning in place of Sean Doolittle, who was placed on the disabled list with left toe inflammation.
The start of the game was delayed 50 minutes due to rain in the area, but it never rained at PNC Park.
Bryce Harper went 0 for 5 with four strikeouts and his batting average fell to .215. Harper and Musgrove grew up playing against one another and Musgrove called it a "friendly matchup."
"I'm just going to look at it as a bad game," Washington manager Dave Martinez said of Harper. "He's a professional and he'll be right back out there tomorrow."
The Pirates optioned right-handed pitcher Alex McRae to Triple-A Indianapolis to make room for Musgrove. McRae did not appear in a game with Pittsburgh.
Washington replaced Doolittle with reliever Wander Suero, who was recalled from Triple-A Syracuse along with starter Austin Voth. Voth will pitch Saturday. Jefry Rodriguez was optioned to the minors.
Nationals: RHP Stephen Strasburg (right shoulder inflammation) made his first rehab start with Class A Potomac. He pitched 3 1/3 innings and allowed two hits, one run and one walk while striking out five.
Pirates: C Francisco Cervelli (concussion) was given the day off. He made back-to-back starts after coming off the disabled list Sunday.
Nationals: LHP Gio Gonzalez (6-5, 3.76 ERA) is scheduled to start Wednesday's series finale. He is 0-3 over his last six starts but is 4-1 in his career against Pittsburgh.
Pirates: RHP Trevor Williams (6-7, 4.60 ERA) is coming off his shortest outing of the season, when he allowed five runs over 2 1/3 innings against Philadelphia on July 6.