The Nationals split a doubleheader with the Pittsburgh Pirates Saturday, 4-3, on an RBI base hit from Ivan Rodriguez.
But the reason the Nationals were in the game again for some late inning magic was the starting pitching. Lefty John Lannan went seven strong innings on only 80 pitches, scattering six hits, allowing three runs and allowing no walks with one strikeout.
It is the fourth consecutive game a Nationals starter has gone at least seven innings.
"That is the starter's goal is to go deep as we can into ball games," Lannan said. "The starting staff here feeds off each other. One guy does good, you try to do better. We are all pulling for each other. (Livan) Hernandez pitched a great game today. The bullpen has done a great job, so we are just trying to help them out."
It was Lannan's fourth quality start in his last six games. He maintains a three-game winning streak with Saturday's no decision.
The Pirates got to Lannan in the third inning, beginning with the first major league base hit for catcher Eric Fryer. After a sacrifice and a ground out, Pittsburgh got back-to-back RBI hits from Chase d'Arnaud and Andrew McCutchen. D'Arnaud's base hit made it 1-0 and McCutchen's double scored another run. The Pirates were up, 2-0.
Lannan said he faced trouble that inning because he strayed a bit from his original strategy.
"I kind of stuck with the same game plan in every inning but the third," Lannan said. "I kind of got soft and left some off speed pitches up. But after that, I knew I had to attack with my fastball and that is what I did."
The Nationals somehow found a way to win a game when trailing after seven innings. It is only the fourth time in 38 games this season they have made such a comeback.
Lannan has been with this team since his major league debut in 2007 and he has been on some pretty lean teams. He does see a difference in the confidence this team brings to the park that has helped them win games they might have lost in years past. The difference has taken the form of pinch hitters making big plays, whether it is Matt Stairs, Rick Ankiel, Jerry Hairston Jr., or Rodriguez.
"I think no matter what happens there will always be that guy who wants to step up and do what Rodriguez did tonight," Lannan said. "Pudge was great. Coming off the bench is not easy. You have to tip your cap to him being around for so long and accepting that role of coming in and getting that pinch hit. Our pinch hits have been huge the past couple games."