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Pirates ride five-run first to 7-2 win over Nats

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Jeff Karstens allowed two runs in six innings and the Pirates rode a five-run first inning to a 7-2 win over the Washington Nationals on a rainy Saturday night at PNC Park

Pirates 7, Nationals 2
PNC Park, Pittsburgh, PA

After a rainout Friday night and a one hour, 11 minute delay Saturday night, the Pirates came out swinging against Livan Hernandez's slow stuff. Some missed spots by Hernandez (2-2) and shoddy leather work behind him propelled Pittsburgh to a five-spot in the first inning and a 7-2 win at PNC Park, snapping a three-game losing streak in the process.

While the long layoff hurt Hernandez, Jeff Karstens (2-0) looked sharp. He went six-plus innings in his second start of the 2011 season, limiting the Nats to just two runs on six hits.

The Pirates ripped Livan Hernandez for five runs (three earned) in the bottom of the first, matching the run total that the club posted while getting swept in a three-game series in Florida.

"We had some better at-bats," said Pirates manager Clint Hurdle. "Two strike at-bats. Situationally, we did a nice job, especially in the first inning."

Hernandez, owner of the slowest fastball in the majors at an average of 84 MPH, makes his living by pounding the outside corner of the plate. But the soft-tosser, making his 450th straight start, failed to locate early on.  

Andrew McCutchen lined an inside fastball to left field to start the game, and Jose Tabata doubled to the right field wall on another fastball in on the hands to put runners on second and third base. Lyle Overbay singled up the middle on an inside fastball that Nationals second baseman Danny Espinosa managed to keep in the infield, but McCutchen scampered home to put the Bucs on the board.

Hernandez tried to adjust by going to his breaking and off-speed stuff, but the Bucs pounced. After a Neil Walker strikeout, Garrett Jones doubled to right on a high-60s curveball thrown low and away, scoring Tabata and moving Overbay to third. Ryan Doumit then pulled a low-and-away changeup for a single to make it 3-0 Bucs.

During the next at-bat, Doumit attempted to steal second base on a curveball that Pedro Alvarez took for a ball. Nationals catcher Wilson Ramos made a perfect throw that tailed in on the runner, nailing Doumit with time to spare. But shortstop Ian Desmond couldn't hold on to the ball and was charged with an error, putting runners on second and third.

Alvarez grounded out on another curve that scored Jones, and Ronny Cedeno followed with a groundball single on a high-70s pitch on the inside half, plating Doumit.

The Nationals made two more miscues behind Hernandez. In the second frame, McCutchen stole second base and advanced to third when Ramos' throw sailed wide into right field. A Tabata sac fly brought McCutchen home. The Nats seemed to have Tabata dead in the water between first and second base in the fourth inning, but Desmond was charged with his second error of the game when he couldn't hold on to an Adam LaRoche throw.

Hernandez allowed one more run in the sixth inning. McCutchen walked, stole his second base of the game and scored on a two-out Overbay single.

Going 1-for-2 and walking twice, McCutchen scored three runs on his action figure night.

"I'm trying to create some havoc on the base paths," McCutchen said. "Being the lead-off man, you're going to have a little more of an opportunity to steal bases in certain situations." McCutchen began the season hitting third in the lineup, but Hurdle has penciled him in atop the order since mid-April.

McCutchen used his wheels in the field, too. He cut off a Rick Ankiel single hit to left-center in the first inning without having to backhand the ball and then fired to second to nail Ankiel.

Tabata provided a spark at the top of the lineup as well, finishing 2-for-2 with a walk.

"Every team wants to get the guys at the top of the lineup on base for the guys in the middle of the lineup," Hurdle said. "They can make things happen, there's no doubt about that."

The 36-year-old Hernandez slogged through six innings pitched, surrendering nine hits and seven runs (four earned). He walked four and struck out two.

Karstens, coming off a 4.1 inning drubbing against the Reds last Sunday, struck out three and walked just one Washington hitter. A Mike Morse single scored Adam LaRoche in the second frame, and Jayson Werth hit a solo shot to left field on a high fastball in the fourth inning.

Typically a fly ball pitcher, Karstens recorded 10 ground ball outs against the Nats.

"He changed speeds well and was very efficient with his pitches," Hurdle said. "We tried to gauge him up a little bit with his pitches, get him closer to 90 [Karstens threw 85 pitches]. But after the first two hitters reached in the seventh, that was plenty. He gave us what we needed tonight."

Karstens left to a standing ovation in the seventh. Chris Resop, Joe Beimel and Evan Meek each followed with an inning of scoreless relief to open a six-game home stand with a win.

"That Florida trip is behind us now," Karstens said. "We didn't show the fans what we're capable of doing during our first home stand. I think we play a lot better at home, and tonight we showed it."

Wood activated
The Pirates activated shortstop Brandon Wood on Saturday, optioning shortstop Pedro Ciriaco to Triple-A Indianapolis to make room on the 25-man roster. Wood, claimed off waivers from the Angels on Friday, was ranked as the number three prospect in the game by Baseball America prior to the 2006 season but has a career .455 on-base plus slugging percentage in the major leagues.

Welcome back, Beimel
Left-hander Joe Beimel made his first appearance in a home uniform at PNC Park since September 21, 2003, on Saturday night. The Duquesne University product tossed a scoreless eighth inning.

Familiar faces in the visitors' dugout
The Nationals' roster is dotted with players who used to dress in the home clubhouse at PNC Park. Five ex-Pirates are on Washington's active roster: Brian Bixler (2008-2009), Sean Burnett (2004-2009), Tom Gorzelanny (2005-2009), Adam LaRoche (2007-2009) and Matt Stairs (2003).

The Pittsburgh connections don't end on the big league roster, either. Nats coach Trent Jewett spent over two decades in the Pirates' organization as a player, manager and coach. Washington pitching coordinator Spin Williams was with the Bucs for 27 years, including 12 years as a member of the major league coaching staff.

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