A.J. Burnett started the game against the Washington Nationals on Friday night like he had something to prove. The Pittsburgh Pirates ace struck out nine as the Bucs began the three-game home series against the Nats with a 3-1 victory Friday night.
Home runs by Andrew McCutchen and Jordy Mercer off Nationals starter Ross Detwiler provided all the offense the Pirates would need in improving to 17-12 overall and 9-4 at PNC Park. In the first inning, McCutchen homered to left field to give the Pirates a 1-0 lead, then Mercer, just called up from Triple-A Indianapolis, popped a ball out to left-center with Starling Marte on base in the fifth.
Burnett allowed the Nationals their only run in the fifth, when an Adam LaRoche two-out walk blossomed into an RBI single by Danny Espinoza. The end of the seventh inning was also the end of the Pirate workhorse’s evening, as Burnett allowed just five hits. He finished with his ERA at an impressive 2.57 and gave the Pirates’ “Shark Tank” bullpen some much needed rest.
Mark Melancon allowed a couple of runners to reach in the eighth but escaped to hand the ball to Jason Grilli. In the ninth, Grilli struck out three Nationals via called third strikes to earn his MLB-leading 12th save.
The combo of Burnett, Melancon and Grilli was more than the NL-East favorite Washington Nationals could handle. Don’t look now America, but the Pirates are playing good baseball. They still need to prove they can finish, but they are off to an awfully good start.
The Bucs and Nats square off again Saturday at 4 p.m.