WASHINGTON — Moved to the leadoff spot for the first time since 2013, Bryce Harper showed signs of breaking out of his slump.
Harper hit a three-run homer that helped Max Scherzer win his fifth straight start as the Washington Nationals beat the Pittsburgh Pirates 12-4 Wednesday night.
"Seriously, I thought I missed that ball," Harper said. "I thought I got the popup down the line more than I did the homer, but it went over the fence, so I'll take it."
Harper entered in a 5-for-35 slump and had not gotten an extra-base hit since April 16. He grounded out in the first inning against Chad Kuhl (3-2), followed Wilmer Difo's go-ahead homer in the third with a flyout, then gave the Nationals a 5-0 lead in the fifth with his ninth homer this season.
"I really believe, even his first at-bat, he got pitches to hit today, and that was good for him," Nationals manager Dave Martinez said. "He got to swing the bat, and it felt like he participated, instead of going up there and walking."
Harper walked for the major league-leading 39th time this season in the sixth, then left the game with Washington ahead 12-0. He led off in 16 games in 2013, his second major league season.
Harper raised his batting average to .250. The home run was the fifth of his career from the leadoff slot.
"You're not going to walk him men on first and second," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said.
Scherzer (6-1) allowed two runs and three hits in 6 1/3 innings, striking out eight and walked one as his ERA rose slightly to 1.79. The first six-game winner in the major leagues this year, Scherzer drove in his second run of the season with an RBI single and scored twice.
" put up the zeroes when I needed to," said Scherzer, who allowed just three of his first 21 batters to reach base.
Corey Dickerson hit a two-run homer off Scherzer in the seventh, and Max Moroff hit a two-run drive against Carlos Torres in the ninth.
Matt Adams hit two solo home runs for Washington.
Kuhl (3-2) gave up six runs and four hits — all home runs — in 4 2/3 innings. He had allowed three homers over his five previous starts.
"With those guys — especially Bryce — any time in the ballgame they can connect," Kuhl said. "Tonight the ball was just out over the plate. Really got punished on the balls that were out over the plate."
SS Trea Turner was caught attempting to steal second base in the third inning. Turner, second in the NL with 12 stolen bases, was picked off for the first time this season. Turner tied the Nationals record for most stolen bases without getting caught to start a season, equaling Adam Kennedy's mark from 2010.
Pirates INF Jung Ho Kang has reported to the extended spring training. "The process is to get him as complete as we can within 30 days," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said.
Pirates: RHP Joe Musgrove (right shoulder strain) made his first rehab assignment for Class A Bradenton and allowed two runs and five hits in three innings.
Nationals: 3B Anthony Rendon (bruised toe) is making progress. "He might end up going on rehab assignment here soon," Martinez said.
RHP Stephen Strasburg (2-3, 3.63 ERA) seeks his first win since April 10 when he starts Wednesday. RHP Ivan Nova (2-1, 3.32 ERA), slated to pitch for Pittsburgh, has gone four straight outings without allowing a walk.