WASHINGTON — Adam Dunn homered for the third straight game, Livan Hernandez made an lead stand up and the Washington Nationals beat Pittsburgh 4-2 Thursday night to become the last team in the majors to sweep a series this season.
Stephen Strasburg started off the three-game sweep by winning his big league debut Tuesday night before a sellout crowd of 40,315. The next two nights were tame events by comparison — drawing 40,637 for both games combined — but all three count equally as wins for a Nationals team that has pulled within a game of .500.
Hernandez (5-3) allowed two runs over six innings for his first win in more than a month despite a respectable string of starts.
With regular closer Matt Capps getting the night off, Tyler Clippard sent the side down in order in the ninth for his first career save.
Dunn homered in each game against the Pirates. Dunn and Josh Willingham connected in the fourth inning, sending Pittsburgh toward its fifth loss in a row.
Zach Duke (3-7) pitched better after two subpar outings but suffered again from a lack of run support. He allowed three runs — two earned — over five innings and scored Pittsburgh’s first run after leading off the sixth with a double.
Dunn gave the Nationals the lead when he hit a curveball into the middle deck in right field in the fourth inning for his 13th home run of the season. Two batters later, Willingham got his 12th homer when he took Duke’s full-count fastball to left-centre to make the score 2-0.
The Nationals added an unearned run in the fifth. Dunn singled, was balked to second, then scored on third baseman Andy LaRoche’s errant throw to first on a grounder by Ryan Zimmerman.
The Pirates got two in the sixth, an inning that began with back-to-back doubles by Duke and Jose Tabata. Speedy outfielder Tabata, who made his major league debut Wednesday, is now 3-for-8 in his first two games.
The Nationals loaded the bases with none out in the sixth on a walk and two singles, but Evan Meek — whose ERA sits at 0.76 — got pinch-hitter Willie Harris to line into a double play and retired Cristian Guzman on a groundout.
Washington also wasted Ian Desmond’s leadoff double in the seventh, stranding him at third, but Michael Morse’s first homer of the season capped his three-hit night and gave the Nationals an insurance run in the eighth.
NOTES: Ryan Doumit returned for the Pirates after missing three games with concussion-like symptoms from taking a foul tip off his face mask, but he started at first base for the first time since 2007. Manager John Russell said Doumit might resume catching duties on Sunday. ... The Nationals went 4-2 over six games at Nationals Park, their fourth straight winning homestand.